Ed Sahm Is Still Feeding Indy

As Told To Adam Wren

Sahm, co-owner of Liter House, Half Liter, Sahm’s and Big Lug Canteen, is converting five of his restaurants into grocery markets and his downtown catering spot into a kitchen for Second Helpings. Last week, Sahm and his crew made and distributed 30,000 meals for the hunger-relief nonprofit, including 4,000 meals for the homeless. (Sahm is collecting donations for Second Helpings here).

I just had a sinking feeling [the coronavirus] was coming, because it had gotten so widespread in China. There’s no way it wasn’t going to come here. Honestly, everyone I talked to about this stuff looked at me like I had two heads a few weeks ago when I was saying, “This is coming.” I didn’t want to freak anybody out who worked for me, but in my head, I was trying to think of what life was going to look like for our restaurants.

We serve well over 200,000 people a year through my catering business. Everything canceled the week of St. Patrick’s Day. Everything. We lost over $100,000 of business in one week for catering. The catering staff is now part of my Second Helpings crew.

We had two businesses open up this spring. We opened up our venture in Attica, Indiana, at Harrison Hills Country Club. We spent four or five or six months putting the restaurant in and getting it ready. We put a smokehouse in there, and we opened up on that Thursday before everything got shut down on that following week. And I just knew we were going to have to shut down.

We’ve got 20 locations. I’d say we’ve laid off 120 to 150 people [out of more than 400 employees]. Our revenue’s almost 90 percent—that’s a $22 million drop in revenue, money used to pay for employees and goods. Some employees gladly stepped off and just said, “I’m good at home.” They got their spouse or their significant other who has income and they are okay. And a lot of people, it was just they felt they’d rather be at home than try to go through everything that we were about to go through. But a lot of people were like, “Hey, man, I want to work and I want to do stuff and I want to help.” We’re trying to bring people on to do Second Helpings.

All of our management team’s been either laid off or gone to unemployment. I stopped taking pay last week. [My son] Eddie’s unemployed. That’s just the reality of our business. There is no income, so there’s no money anywhere.

There were probably five days in a row, honestly, where we went and literally reinvented six different places. We said, “It’s going to be a grocery market, we’re going to do family meals.” And so, we did website development, we redid our websites. We redid our menus and did all those things internally. We reprogrammed all our computers. So, it went from being, Oh my God, what are we going to do, we don’t have any sales, to, Hey man, we’ve got to get busy. Me and the team have never been busier.

We’re basically starting six or seven brand new businesses, with a staff that’s completely freaked out.

I hope people realize just how much people who make things, fix things, deliver things mean to our society, and maybe take a little bit more notice and care on the other side of this thing. Now, every job’s important. Every career I feel like is important. But the sheer fact that the people who make things have to stop making things, that’s when everything hits the fan.

I’ve been thinking about doing emergency feedings, because I see in the weeks and months ahead that there’s going to be some emergency needs for food in our city, and we’re just going to be there to help provide a piece of that. We’re not talking bread lines, but in some areas, maybe.

I don’t want to be in the grocery business, but here we are.

I’m honestly a raging optimist, because I’m in the restaurant business. If you’re in the restaurant business, you’re an optimist. I think in some shape or form, it’s going to be okay on the other side of this.

It’s going to be different, though.