Opening a new restaurant during the coronavirus pandemic restrictions, which has led thousands of operators to shut down entirely, has become a rarity. But openings are happening.
Irving, Texas-based i Fratelli Pizza Franchising LLC opened its 20th unit in Fort Worth a week ago as states and cities were tightening their restrictions on restaurants to help stem the spread of the COVID-19. Another franchise owner is scheduled to open a new unit in Fossil Creek, Texas, next week.
And longtime independent family-owned Gene & Georgetti, a 220-seat steakhouse in Chicago, reopened Wednesday after undergoing repairs from an October fire.
“This being such an extraordinary event in our history means that all of us are doing things we never thought of before,” said Charles Ballard, vice president of franchise development for i Fratelli, in an email exchange.
“You must make an emotional connection with the customers in their market,” he said. “You must be involved in what concerns those customers. Right now, what concerns most people is staying healthy and keeping their life as normal as possible.
“Restaurants should play a big part in their communities and the more ways they can let their customers know this, the better,” Ballard added. “People will tell others what you are doing if you are doing it with sincerity. It is our experience that the best advertising is the personal recommendation from a friend or neighbor.”
Michelle Durpetti, the third generation of the family behind Gene & Goergetti in downtown Chicago, said the restaurant was planned to reopen its dining room until the pandemic hit. Instead, it reopened with carry-out, curbside pickup and delivery.
“I am adapting as much as everyone else to the ever-changing circumstances of this pandemic,” Durpetti said through the restaurant’s representative. “I have called upon my experience from right after our fire at our downtown location, when things were happening so fast. I was overwhelmed with keeping up, and often felt overrun by fears and emotions. What I learned was to start every day, if possible, with some kind of movement — a walk, run on a treadmill — whatever works for everyone. For me it is usually a ride on my horses, but these days a walk outside does the trick.”
Durpetti said she realizes what is out of control will remain that way. “And then I get to the task of managing what I can each day,” she said. “I make sure that I am having frequent conversations with the team I have around me, and I make every effort to make decisions without rushing. While that may sound crazy in these urgent times, for me it works. I take each day and make decisions in the best interest of the brand and its people and I do my utmost to get us to tomorrow with those decisions. At the end of the day, I apply what I learned and get ready for tomorrow, because there will be more information, changes and possibly even different solutions.”
Durpetti, daughter of longtime owner Tony Durpetti, said Gene & Georgetti originally opened in 1941 and survived World War II.
“What’s more,” she said, “our building was built using scrap wood from the Great Chicago Fire in 1871. The symbolism of rising from the ashes and reopening in the midst of a global crisis in the year 2020 is not lost on me. This restaurant has stood trials, tribulations and the test of time, and it will do so again.”
Gene & Georgetti, known for prime steaks and chops, seafood selections and house-made pastas, is now offering family-style dinner packages, boxed lunches, meal kits with family recipes and pantry essentials like house-made sauces, steaks and seafood, homemade pasta and more. Delivery is within 12 miles of downtown Chicago.
The restaurant also created a special website with all of the options in one place: GandGtogo.com.
“We are looking forward right now with the delivery and pickup programs that we have put in place, along with an easy-to-navigate website we created especially for this purpose,” Durpetti said. “We are doing our utmost to perfect those programs so that we are offering our customers (who love us as much as we love them) the food that they have counted on and been comforted by for 79 years.”
Ballard of i Fratelli Pizza said the company has evident concerns about opening new units amid the pandemic restrictions.
“Both of the new stores that are opening now are in areas just outside the reach of our current locations and already have a fan base that is eagerly waiting on us,” Ballard said. “The largest concern we have with opening during this time, (other than the health and well-being of our staff and customers, obviously), is being prepared, with enough trained staff. We normally have time to ease into opening a new location, but not at this time.”
The concept is take-out and delivery only, Ballard noted, “so we aren’t having to figure out how to make this work. We have it dialed in. Even curbside delivery is a service that we have always been willing to provide when requested. What makes us special from others that have been offering delivery, is ours is always free priority delivery. We do not utilize third-party services, all deliveries are made by uniformed, (branded chef coat), i Fratelli Pizza drivers, and they only take one order at a time.”
Getting the word out about the new i Fratelli locations, Ballard said, has been a challenge.
“We have been using a lot of social media to get the word out that ‘We are here for you,’” he said. “We also are fortunate to have many loyal fans that are letting their neighbors know we are open and ready to serve. Additionally, we are providing many of our hard-working healthcare workers, first responders and overworked essential retail crews small free orders to give them a break, and introduce them to the brand.”
Contact Ron Ruggless at [email protected]
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