A Sweet Auburn Bar Owner Shifts Her Business Model In Face Of Pandemic

Joy Huffman, owner of Clues and Cocktails, shifted to go orders, with a twist, when the virus hit.

Joy Huffman

Joy Huffman knows how to have fun.

Along with owning an ax-throwing space and an escape room, she’s also the owner of the Sweet Auburn bar Clues and Cocktails. There, patrons use puzzles and riddles to solve mysteries while having a craft drink. She says her events each week were packed.

That stopped when the coronavirus pandemic hit.

“My initial thought was I’m going to keep going and hosting the events until I can’t,” Huffman says.

But people who bought tickets to her events started dropping out. A few days later she shut down and eventually laid off 15 people.

Huffman quickly changed her business model. She hired two chefs and extended her menu to focus on food delivery and takeout. Meals include paninis, greens, mac and cheese and vegetarian sliders. 

And she found a way to still let people solve mysteries in the age of social distancing.

Those who choose to can have their food packed in a box with a lock. Before the food arrives, patrons get clues to solve a mystery via text while they wait. If successful, they get the code to open the lock.

“And that will keep them occupied for 30 to 45 minutes,” she says.

Customers also have the option to donate a dinner to someone. These dinners have gone to people experiencing homelessness, the elderly and public safety workers.

Huffman says so far she’s given out more than 800 meals.

She’s ready for in-person events again. But like many other restaurant owners, she doesn’t know when that will be.

“As we kind of segue into doing the to-go meals and this new experience that we’re offering … we’re then going to circle back around to ‘what’s it gonna be like when we re-launch,’” Huffman says.

She has some ideas but for now is focused on adapting during the crisis.