TEMPE, AZ — When the pandemic first began in March 2020, business boomed at Phat Scooters.
With so many people isolating at home and searching for ways to entertain themselves in quarantine, the Tempe-based company could barely keep up with demand for their electric scooters.
Peter Johnson, chief executive officer of Phat Scooters, said that the three-year-old company had a great financial year and was looking to give back in a meaningful way. The company was set to launch its new delivery scooter at the National Restaurant Association show in Chicago before it was shut down because of the pandemic. The units were just sitting in a warehouse until Phat Scooters realized they could be put to better use.
The company decided to donate 12 of its scooters — which start at $2,500 — to local restaurants hit hard by the early stages of the pandemic, which forced the food industry to pivot to a takeout-only business model in a matter of days.
“This was a way for us to get the units out there and do something good at the same time,” he said.
According to a December study from the National Restaurant Association, 17 percent of all U.S. restaurants permanently closed because of the pandemic.
Johnson said the team tried to pick smaller, mom-and-pop restaurants to donate to based on their personal connections in the community. It also helped several restaurants avoid using third-party delivery services, which take a significant cut of each sale.
“We tried to go with smaller restaurants that we knew that were local, rather than big chains,” he said. “We wanted to do something special for the community.”
Johnson said each restaurant was “flabbergasted” by the donation, and many said that it opened up a whole new revenue stream for them during a difficult time. He pointed to Randy’s Restaurant in Scottsdale, which was able to take cookies and hand sanitizer to its neighbors in Chaparral Park with the help of its new scooter.
Angela Cole, the manager of Randy’s and the daughter of the popular restaurant’s namesake, Randy Cole, said the March shutdown hit the 40-year-old restaurant hard. March and April are Randy’s busiest months and typically help the team prepare for the slower summer season.
“We literally went from having 80 people on our staff to having maybe eight people working,” Cole said.
Randy’s clientele consists of a huge number of people in their 70s and 80s, some of whom would come to the neighborhood joint three times a day for their meals. Cole remembered having a line out the door most days. With no ability to deliver when it shifted to takeout-only, Randy’s lost a chunk of its core customer base, and many older customers, confined at home and afraid of the virus, were left without food.
“It flipped us upside down,” Cole said.
Cole’s friend Kristen Steele owns Arcadia restaurant Chestnut, one of Phat Scooters’ other recipients, which is how Randy’s found itself with a brand-new delivery scooter.
“We never, ever thought it would just be given to us for free or anything,” Steele said.
Thanks to the donation, Randy’s, known for its corned beef and cabbage, was able to reach many of its loyal customers again and take them their favorite comfort meals. Cole said she and another manager would make many of the deliveries themselves, with packing help from Cole’s 7-year-old daughter.
“We were able to reach a portion of our clients that would not have come in and ordered from us if we weren’t able to deliver,” she said.
Now open for limited dining, Cole said she’s heard from a number of family members of older people, thanking them for taking care of their loved ones and shifting their business model to help.
“As opposed to it being more about the money aspect of it for us, it was more to reach out to our neighbors and our community who have been so good to us for the last 40 years and really service them,” she said.
Johnson said he hopes Phat Scooters and other companies continue to learn from this time and take those lessons with them moving forward.
“One of the main things we’re taking out of this working through challenges and the unknown, and becoming efficient,” he said.