Table Crumbs: A robot, yes, a server robot and Il Focolare takes meals indoors | Snacks and sips

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Editor’s note: Table Crumbs is a casual one-week summary of Columbia’s food news, in a nutshell.

Appetizers

Launch of a new brunch menu: Cafe Strudel, the longtime cafe on State Street in West Columbia, has updated its menu and added new items, the owners announced in an Instagram post. Some of the new items include a brisket cookie, inspired by their brisket sandwich, and the smokehouse omelette, which is made with coffee-rubbed brisket, onions, and gouda cheese.

The chefs collaborate at Cottontown: Black Rooster chef Alex Strickland will join War Mouth chef Rhett Elliott for a four-course collaboration dinner at War Mouth in Cottontown on May 22. Each dish will be accompanied by cocktails from David Abedokun of War Mouth. Reservations can be made by emailing [email protected]

Will True BBQ return? : Seven months after closing the doors for personal reasons, True BBQ owner Milton Zanders made an announcement on Facebook Live about the restaurant’s future. He did not say when the restaurant would reopen, but said there were plans to reopen it eventually.

Main course

Usually, when restaurants hire new servers, it doesn’t make the headlines. This is not the case with the Peanut Man Gourmet Cafe.

The cafe just hired a new waitress named Bella. Why am I telling you this? Oh, because he’s a robot.

Robotic servers are still a fairly new concept, and Peanut Man is one of the first restaurants in Columbia to introduce the concept to the area. Bella, the robotic waiter, helps ferry food to tables, which co-owner Carrie Hinely says helps free up staff.

“I was like, Oh, my God, I need this in my life, because I’m running so constantly all day. And it’s so hard to find help so I don’t really have extra help to get me off the plates. We just can’t get people to hire,” Hinely said.


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The tech aid comes at a time when restaurants are struggling to find employees, with nearly one million service workers leaving the industry in October 2021 according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. And since the robot only costs the restaurant about $6 a day, owners save money on hiring an extra staff member.

But Hinely said that despite a small group of people fearing the robots will soon replace staff members, most people have loved the robots since she launched them earlier this month.

“I’ll tell you, 99.99% of my clients love it. In fact, probably 90% of them ask me if I can send it for a picture and an interview,” Hinely said. “The 0.01% of people who are fearful or fearful of the future are not people in the industry who need to show up and fill the positions we need to fill understaffed.”

The story of Peanut Man’s robot employee was first reported by WLTX.

Hinely and her husband, Chris, who together own the restaurant, heard about the robots through a food vendor and decided to try the demo earlier this month. They loved the robots so much that they’ve now invested in three – one that transports tables, one to deliver food to tables, and one to transport samples and serve as advertisements for the restaurant.

The robots work regular hours and can be seen by customers visiting the restaurant, located at 3905 Fernandina Road and open Monday through Saturday from 10 p.m. to 6 p.m., with the kitchen closing at 5:30 p.m.

Dessert

Il Focolare is finally back open for indoor dining. The pizzeria in Cottontown has opened and closed and reopened, hopefully for good, as the number of COVID-19 cases continues to remain low.

The Cottontown pizzeria suspended indoor dining earlier this year, citing rising cases of Omicron variant COVID-19.

Nearly four months later and after operating for take-out only, the restaurant owners announced in a social media post on May 3 that they would resume indoor dining on May 4.

The restaurant briefly reopened for indoor dining last September, then finally halted indoor dining on January 3 this year.


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Owners Sarah Simmons and Aaron Hoskins also operate smallSUGAR and City Grit in the city’s Vista — those locations opened this year and Il Focolare operated take-out only.

Simmons also announced updated times in a separate social media post. The restaurant will now be open from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and from 4 p.m. to 10 p.m. on weekends.

Simmons could not be reached for comment.

Restaurant owners have drawn both criticism and support from locals over their requirement that customers provide proof of vaccination when booking. They were the only restaurant in the state to require proof.

When the Lula Drake Wine Parlor on Main Street opened in the summer of 2021, vaccinations were required of patrons but no proof was requested like at Il Focolare.

“It’s not like there’s a playbook on how to navigate your businesses through a pandemic,” Simmons told Free Times in a previous interview.

The restaurant accepts reservations and no longer requires proof of vaccination for dinner. It is located at 2150 Sumter St.

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