A long, expansive bar, large enough for everyone to come up and sit. Cocktails center stage. A dowstairs with a sushi counter where customers can see their sushi being prepared. The chef coursing out hand rolls, one by one.
“[We wanted to] bring something really new and exciting to Old Town that we thought our community would really appreciate,” Schott says. “You don’t have to go all the way to D.C. to have a really nice [or] fancy night out.”
But not one month after coming to King Street, Schott and Taylor faced an obstacle that not many new business owners had encountered before: Covid-19. On March 18, once the threat of the pandemic was clear, Schott and his team closed both restaurants and were forced to reevaluate their business model.
“The two investors, Alex, myself and one of the chefs sat down and tried to figure out what we were going to do, right then on the fly,” Schott recounts. “How do we do this? No one’s going to be allowed to eat in the restaurant. It’s all to-go. Our sushi program doesn’t work to-go. The bar upstairs? Completely closed. No one’s allowed in it. Here’s all these things we set up for people to be in there for the experience. What do we think we should do?”
At that point, there was little known about the pandemic.
“We also didn’t know or understand Covid regulations yet,” Schott explains. “That was all being rolled out. We didn’t know what to do with our staff [or] how to help protect them.”
The group quickly came up with a variety of ways to adapt to the circumstances. From March to June, they solely operated with takeout including to-go cocktails, which became legal in Virginia in April 2020. In June, Virginia entered Phase 2, permitting restaurants to offer indoor dining up to 50% capacity and allowing the group to get creative yet again.
“No one was walking in off the street and just coming upstairs and being like, ‘Hey, it’s good to be back in my home bar,’” Schott explains. “There was no opportunities for that. Also, people going out to eat at that point weren’t taking as many risks [with] places they didn’t know.”
King’s Ransom began hosting small private parties, allowing groups of six to eight people to rent the restaurant floor of the business. They also started Monday night cocktail classes from 5:30-7 p.m. and 7:30-9 p.m. in an attempt to reestablish the connection between customer and bartender that Schott and Taylor had originally hoped for.
“In that closed setting, we were still able to invite people in to see the place [and] how passionate we were about what we did, and also to create that bond [between] the host and guests,” Schott says. “When the pandemic happened, people were like, ‘How do I make drinks at home?’ They were curious about stuff that they didn’t have that opportunity to ask [us].”
Currently, King’s Ransom is open to walk-ins from 5-10 p.m., closing at 10 p.m. to comply with Virginia regulations regarding the sale of alcohol. The Handover is offering their menu to-go as well as limited dine-in options.
When asked why he thought King’s Ransom was able to survive when so many small restaurants and bars were not, Schott highlights the hard work of the staff.
“I still have the most top-notch, world-class staff. When you have people like that to push you, encourage you and inspire you, that’s what helps keep it going.”
Schott also emphasizes the need to have perspective and stay positive.
“You could look at it and be like, ‘Oh man, we were supposed to open a restaurant and it was supposed to be busy, and we’re supposed to be making XYZ amount of money and all these things should have happened.’ You could do that all day and get down and look at the negatives. But if you step back and look at the positives, no matter what is happening, I got to open a restaurant with one of my best friends, and we got to serve people food and drinks. That’s a beautiful thing.”
As for the restaurant’s anniversary tomorrow?
“We have some fun, exciting things [planned], because that’s what we’ve been doing the whole time and that’s what we’re going to keep doing,” Schott says. “This is a situation we’ve been put in, and this is how we’re deciding to view it and deal with it. Let’s make fun, tasty, delicious things – and try and make people happy.”
Enjoy this piece? Consider becoming a member for access to our premium digital content. Support local journalism and start your membership today.