Like numerous different restaurateurs throughout California and the nation, Alex and Charity Prestifilippo have been caught in a precarious health-and-safety limbo.
Beginning in March, the COVID-19 pandemic shuttered their in style Gourmet Italia restaurant in Temecula, a wine-growing neighborhood of 115,000 southeast of Los Angeles. Dozens of staff have been laid off; meals shares rapidly turned outdated.
They started bleeding money — about $20,000 day by day in misplaced enterprise, hire and varied different funds on Gourmet Italia and their different properties, a vineyard and the pizzeria Spuntino.
While determined to reopen, the couple additionally realized the perils concerned in serving meals to the general public with a harmful pathogen on the unfastened. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s tips have been complicated sufficient for most people. For eating places attempting to maintain loyal patrons secure, the shortage of readability was maddening.
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What exactly did social distancing imply inside their restaurant, the Prestifilippos questioned. Did prospects anticipate servers, cooks and busboys to put on masks? How vigilantly did they must sanitize counters and tables? How typically ought to staff wash their fingers?
“It was stressful,” mentioned Charity. “While we understood the government itself was trying to figure all of this out, nobody could give us any hard answers. And we couldn’t devise a plan of attack without permanent information.”
After being suggested he may seat his restaurant at solely 50% capability, Alex mentioned, he was later knowledgeable there was no capability restrict, so long as tables have been spaced 6 ft aside.
“Government health officials were giving owners a moving target. Even restaurant associations were having a hard time getting a handle on the right process,” mentioned Phil Mott, a Colorado-based restaurant advisor. “Owners faced retraining all their employees, but they weren’t even sure what that training entailed.”
The Prestifilippos just lately reopened Gourmet Italia and Spuntino, however not with out a lot anguish and deliberation, and plenty of powerful selections.
Beginning in April, Charity joined a weekly digital assembly with dozens of different restaurant house owners within the tightknit vacationer neighborhood, dotted with privately owned wineries and mother and pop eateries. Many feared they might be pressured to shut for good in the event that they didn’t reopen quickly. Some wished to “go rogue,” opening collectively and playing that heath officers wouldn’t shut all of them down.
In the tip, the group of Temecula restaurant house owners determined to attend, utilizing the time to develop a listing of most well-liked practices for the longer term, precautions that ranged from offering hand sanitizer and wipes to changing conventional salt and pepper shakers with disposable packets.
They agreed to doc toilet cleansing schedules and open the parking zone to out of doors tables so prospects may hold their distance. Cafes with counter service thought of putting in plexiglass boundaries between diners.
“The idea was to do more than you would probably need — so customers could see that you were doing your best to create a safe place,” mentioned Charity. “But there were also business considerations. Could you be as quick and efficient with your service if you have to take all these precautions? How was all this going to work?”
After emigrating from Sicily, Alex, 51, discovered English and opened his first restaurant in 1999. He finally developed a 7,000-square-foot house with high-end Italian delicacies and white linen tablecloths that Tripadvisor described as a romantic eating spot.
Charity, 47, was one who discovered romance there. She got here in first as a buyer, then met Alex, and so they fell in love.
The Prestifilippos acquired about $300,000 in financial help via Small Business Administration loans. Still, it felt as in the event that they have been leaking hard-earned cash. And the projected prices of implementing all these well being precautions — between $500 and $1,000 a day — introduced sticker shock.
“I showed Alex the figures and he said, ‘Are you kidding me?’” Charity recalled.
Not solely have been provide costs escalating with elevated demand, but in addition there have been lengthy waits for gadgets similar to specialised thermometers that might be utilized to the foreheads of staff, and probably prospects, which price $180 or extra — if you might get them. They additionally wanted gallons of sanitizer, masks, gloves and who knew what else?
“I just spent $2,800 on peroxide for the two restaurants and I have no idea how long that’s going to last,” Alex mentioned. Masks price $1.50 every, and the cooks, servers and busboys use a number of every shift, he mentioned.
Alex determined to not elevate costs to cowl the prices. That wouldn’t be truthful to his prospects, he mentioned.
On May 30, after months of quarantine, prospects shaped a line outdoors for Gourmet Italia’s first lunch seating.
The diners encountered a coronavirus security plan that had been months within the making. For starters, the house owners saved the entrance doorways open so prospects didn’t have to the touch the handles and put in hand-sanitizing gadgets on the entrance.
Servers and busboys wore masks, and the bar and kitchen employees donned gloves as properly. Only after tables have been seated have been plates and wrapped silverware offered. Menus have been sanitized after every use, and salt and pepper shakers have been introduced on demand — and rapidly wiped down. Tables have been moved into the bar space to create further distance, and staff patrolled the restaurant to scrub surfaces. All 35 staff returned from layoffs.
So far, enterprise has been down. Alex dealt with 150 diners through the Saturday evening of the reopening and introduced in $10,000, down from 450 prospects and $30,000 on a typical Saturday earlier than the shutdown. Street protests in opposition to police violence in Temecula held down the opening-day crowd, he mentioned.
Alex described the opening-night environment as like a household reunion, with folks continuously approaching to congratulate him. He needed to duck inside his workplace to get any paperwork performed. Alex mentioned he’s positive no buyer will get sick in his restaurant. “We have one employee whose only job all day is to sanitize menus, chairs, tables and door handles, and clean the bathroom every half-hour,” he mentioned. “I feel safe.”
And although he hails from an Italian tradition of embraces and social kisses, Alex has chosen to place security over conventional social graces.
“I told myself, ‘I’m not gonna hug,’” he mentioned. “It’s very important to respect the code. I let my employees know — elbow bumps only. No hugs. No hands.”