The year was 1949. Harry S. Truman was president, Perry Como could be heard crooning on the radio and carhop restaurants were popping up all over the country due to the leading postwar consumer luxury — the automobile. It was at this time that a local businessman and restauranteur, Larry Hatch, brought life to Pittsburgh’s first “Come as you are. Eat in your car.” experience: Eat’n Park.
From these humble beginnings, a Pittsburgh legacy was born. Fast forward to present day and Eat’n Park Hospitality Group (ENPHG) has grown into a full portfolio of foodservice entities that includes three restaurant brands — Eat’n Park, Hello Bistro and The Porch, an e-commerce business — SmileyCookie.com, and a contract dining division — Parkhurst Dining. Throughout these diversified lines of business, one thing remains consistent — a commitment to the hospitality group’s core values with a focus on food, their people, and an unrelenting commitment to embracing innovation.
At no time were these core values more apparent than in 2020. Eat’n Park Hospitality Group President & CEO Jeff Broadhurst was poised to lead his family’s business through this storm by facing these hurdles head-on. “As the world around us changed, we were prepared because we’ve always known who we are and what’s important to us: our purpose and our core values. This firm foundation allowed us to adapt, innovate, and move forward without losing our way on our journey.”
And adapt they did. With the sudden closure of dining rooms across the state due to the pandemic’s rise, Eat’n Park was already equipped to handle to-go orders. Their strong takeout program had been in place for years, thanks to their existing takeout windows that were first implemented in the mid-2000’s. In 2020, however, they recognized new and emerging customer needs. So, in less than a month, they added three additional takeout methods brand-wide to fulfill guests’ online and call-in orders — lobby shelves, curbside pick-up and delivery.
When the ability to dine-in returned, Eat’n Park adapted its in-restaurant experience to help guests feel safe and comfortable. They implemented additional — and extensive — safety protocols related to cleaning and disinfecting. They also piloted several new technologies to limit contact between customers and servers, including contactless transactions via a QR code and pay-at-the-table systems that quickly became the new normal.
As the company innovated to meet current demands, it realized it also needed to adapt in anticipation of its guests’ future needs. For instance, the company tested a new service model that allowed guests to control the pace of their dining experience. Guests could place their dine-in order ahead and pay online, and upon arrival at their designated time, the table would be set, and their food would be ready. This offered guests the convenience of being able to stop in, eat and depart on a timeline that worked best for themselves and their family.
The specific job responsibilities of team members were modified to meet the ever-changing demands of the restaurant. Historically, each team member would have had role-specific job duties. With the evolution imposed by the pandemic, team members were cross-trained to perform a variety of tasks, allowing management to move them more nimbly to where coverage is needed the most. Instead of being assigned to greet guests for their entire shift, they might start their day at that position, but later move to the takeout area during the dinner rush. This new model not only allows the team to grow and learn new skills, but teaches flexibility and being more able to adapt to guests’ needs. Team members who had perfected their position for years were asked to learn new, unfamiliar skills. They more than rose to the challenge because, to them, Eat’n Park is not just a company… it is their company.
As much as Eat’n Park’s success is attributed to these operational advancements, none of it would be possible without its people. Eat’n Park is known for its dedicated team member base, with over 400 team members having worked there for more than 25 years. After the pandemic hit the restaurant industry particularly hard, Eat’n Park stayed true to its core value of caring about people. Not only did the company offer furloughed team members free meals twice a week, it covered insurance premiums for affected team members for a period of time and allowed team members to remain enrolled in active benefits during furlough. They also covered the cost of co-pays for telemedicine and all COVID-19 related testing. In a time of uncertainty, it was these caring acts that demonstrated Eat’n Park is more like a family than a business.
It’s from that family mentality that the Eat’n Park Hospitality Group Foundation and its Team Member Assistance Fund were created. The Fund provides short-term, emergency financial assistance to team members who are experiencing unexpected and unavoidable hardship. ENPHG’s team members embraced the opportunity, with many individuals offering financial contributions to help grow the fund and help their fellow team members.
The company’s care has extended beyond its team. During a time of unprecedented need, the company did what it does best: show care through food. Through an innovative partnership with the United Way of Greater Pittsburgh and PNC, ENPHG team members helped provide more than 1.3 million meals to students at school districts across southwestern Pennsylvania. While it might have been easier to cancel during a tumultuous year, it was also important to the company to continue its 42-year tradition of fundraising for local children’s hospitals, raising more than $11 million to date through its annual Caring for Kids Campaign.
Despite the obstacles that came with 2020, Eat’n Park didn’t just survive the pandemic — they grew through it. In addition to opening two new pickup windows since January 2021, they built a brand-new building for their Butler location on New Castle Road. The new restaurant is their model for the future, incorporating all the pilot technology and a refreshed look. After a grueling year, ENPHG President and CEO Jeff Broadhurst is energized by this latest addition: “We are building our bridge to the future. From the ENPHG that was, to the ENPHG that will be — the company we all can feel proud that we’ve helped steer to safety and, in many cases, moved forward.”
A firm sense of self. Enduring values. Visionary and caring leaders who adapted — not only out of necessity, but with a spirit on ongoing innovation. These are the attributes that have helped to grow Eat’n Park Hospitality Group from a single unit restaurant into a beloved regional hospitality powerhouse during the last 72 years; and what will continue to fuel the business for the next 72 years and beyond.