Pagliacci’s co-owner Solomon Siegel
POPULAR BROAD STREET EATERY Pagliacci’s has none of its usual lineups these days. “There is no table service, the core of our entire business,” states Solomon Siegel, general manager and co-owner of the long-time family-owned restaurant. “We have pivoted to delivery and pick-up only.”
Siegel has had to lay off the majority of the staff, keeping only management and a few cooks to facilitate the take-out business. He’s very grateful for the impending government assistance for the laid-off staff. “It made the layoffs more palatable to me. I haven’t abandoned them,” he says. The jobs will be waiting for them when this time is over.
Siegel has adjusted the menu, offering only the dishes that transport well, at the same time keeping food waste to a minimum. He’s also offering cocktail kits for sale in the restaurant for customers who want to stock their own home bars
Financially, the difference is “night and day,” he says. At the end of February, Siegel was feeling very positive about the projections for the restaurant. “Some new items on the menu were being positively received. We have a good balance between locals and tourists. We were getting ready for when the locals recommend the restaurant to tourists.” And now, “If it wasn’t for the wage subsidy, we’d be operating at a loss.”
Siegel lists off the measures he has taken to keep staff and customers safe, measures which are all too familiar these days: “One front-of-house person, who has nothing to do with food prep, and the food prep staff have nothing to do with the public. Increased hand washing, which is always important with food prep, anyhow. I keep the front door open so you [customers and delivery drivers] don’t have to touch anything to enter. Hand sanitizing stations are at the door and at the till. Contactless credit card, and we sanitize the units each time with a food-safe sanitizer. Social distancing.”
Pagliacci’s has been a fixture in Victoria for 40 years, and Siegel is keenly aware of their loyal customers. By moving to take-out rather than shutting the doors for the duration, he says, “Regulars are happy that they can get the food they love. It’s a big positive for a lot of people. And for people who aren’t able to cook every night.”
With no immediate end of social distancing in sight, Siegel is working on a plan to offer family-style meals for four. He says, “We’re lucky. Our style of food works well for pickup and delivery, we had a delivery system in place already, and we have a loyal guest base who love our food and still want it.”
He fears that lots of small restaurants will be forced to close, but Pag’s won’t be one of them. Besides the 75 percent subsidy for employees, Siegel will apply for the business loan being offered by the Federal Government. Then, “if the current volume continues and if we get those programs, we won’t make money, but we won’t go into debt. My goal is to employ some staff, provide food, open again and not be in horrible debt.”
Sounds like a realistic plan for these unprecedented times.
Marilyn McCrimmon is a native Victorian and freelance writer. She has written for Focus since its inception in 1988.