When COVID-19 brought about mass closures and major changes in dining habits last spring, restaurateurs – both local and national – were sent scrambling and have since been in a constant state of adjustment.
For Chef Tom Gray and his team at Prati Italia, the challenge was two-fold, as the nascent Town Center eatery had just re-launched in January after rebranding from their former concept, Moxie.
“Every day we were learning something new,” says Chef Tom, who also operates Town Hall in San Marco with his wife Sarah Marie Johnston. In short order, Gray and his team had to figure out remote communication, new ordering protocols, and much more.
“Information was flowing so fast it was hard to keep up,” Gray explains. “In addition to figuring out the logistics of moving to a to-go only business model, we had to figure out the PPP loan process and other government business aid options, communicating with our staffs at both Prati Italia and Town Hall.”
“We basically hibernated both restaurants when the mandates came to close for dine-in service until we could regroup as a team with a real plan, new menus and systems to move forward,” he adds.
The restaurant’s recent relaunch was at times a blessing in disguise early in the process. Gray and his team were able to, for example, quickly launch a new online ordering system by working with the developer who had just finished their new website.
Once some of the early restrictions were lifted, Prati Italia was able to offer options like contactless curbside pickup, to-go cocktails, and delivery, while taking great effort to keep up with and adhere to CDC guidelines regarding COVID-19.
“Guests were appreciative of these efforts and shared their excitement at being able to dine out again, enjoy the patios and good food in an environment where it was obvious we were paying attention to the details to make it as safe as possible for our guests and staff alike,” says Gray.
Though Prati Italia has done well during the pandemic, Gray and his team are still working to rebuild their business volumes to pre-pandemic levels.
“Not everyone is getting back to dining out yet,” Gray explains. “That does not happen overnight.”
But there’s plenty of reason for Gray and his team to remain optimistic. Response to the new Prati Italia retail line, available at Native Sun, has been positive and has helped maintain revenue through the pandemic. Likewise, Gray and his wife have taken on more clients through their restaurant management and consulting business, CuliVino.
“Through all of this, we see the challenges as ways to strengthen what works and adjust what doesn’t,” says Gray. “Being independent business owners requires that on a daily basis anyway!”