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Cross-Country Viewpoint: Pizzerias coping with COVID-19


April 22, 2020
By Canadian Pizza Staff

Topics

We asked pizzeria operators, how are you coping with the social distancing measures in place? Here’s what two operators had to say.

Gino and Bobbie-Sue Risi, owners of Maria’s Original Pizza, Brantford, Ont. (April 4, 2020)
Like all restaurant operators, Gino and Bobbie-Sue Risi have had to roll with the punches of a pandemic and a dizzyingly uncertain March.

Aside from their new lunch counter, Maria’s is takeout and delivery only. They feel fortunate they’ve been able to stay open – with a few adjustments. “We can’t do a full staff from 11 to 9 because there’s no need for us in the day anymore. Our lunch customers were not coming in because their work was considered non-essential. We changed to a 3 to 8 shift and we did that for about five days. Now instead of 11 to 10 we’re doing 4 to 7. And we’re closed on Monday. We have been extremely steady with the new hours and we appreciate all the patrons supporting this mom-and-pop shop with pickups and deliveries during this trying and scary time.”

Bobbie-Sue has been doing the cleaning herself and they’ve instituted a no-cash, debit-only policy. “No more slices will be on hand because that’s where a lot of the walk-in customers are using small change,” she says. “Now there’s only one person doing the phones, one person doing the debit. Our pizza makers are such a good distance away from each other. It’s always Gino or I or an adult up at the front dealing with customers. We’re trying to make sure everyone is safe.

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“The door is always left open during opening hours – no one’s having to touch the door. It’s open, there’s air, and we just hope we’re doing the right thing by being open.”

Their staff of 19 has been reduced by about half, some of which is due to employees needing to be at home with their kids. She says, “I did ask the staff, ‘Tell me how you’re feeling. If you don’t want to come in, don’t come in – happy heart – your job is here for you when this pandemic is over.’ ”

“We wondered, will people be angry we’re opening? Are we flattening this curve?” When they takeout and delivery restaurants were deemed an essential service by the province, the decision of whether to stay open or close was theirs to make.

“We’re blessed that we’re still open and actually are doing very well under the circumstances,” Gino says. “But we had mixed feelings. Should we be closed and doing our part during the pandemic? We wanted to keep people working. Is it socially right or not? So, I’ve been struggling with that.

“But people coming in for the pizza are thanking us. They say, ‘This is bringing me joy.’ ”

Read our feature story on Maria’s Original Pizza.

Cory Medd, owner of Two Guys and a Pizza Place, Lethbridge, Alta. (April 9, 2020)
In late March, Cory Medd, owner of Two Guys and a Pizza Place in Lethbridge, Alta., laid out a timeline that tells a story by itself:

“March 17 – We closed the dining room and reduced our hours. March 18-20 we laid off about 15 servers. March 20-22 we were not too busy, as the city just shut down and people were scared. March 19 – I started a driver tip-out for the cooks, as a way to reward those working hard. March 23 – We introduced a “no staff shall go hungry or thirsty” incentive, where I give bonuses in the form of food (or beer!) for hours worked. Since March 18, we’ve offered delivery and takeout only. Deliveries have been up for sure.”

They are selling beer for pickup where people can pick up a mix-and-match six-pack of craft beers. They’ve been closing at 9 p.m. instead of 11 p.m. or 1 a.m. “And we’re thinking about closing on Mondays.”

Customers have been co-operative and supportive, he says, adding that about 25 per cent opt for contactless delivery or curbside pickup and prepay for their orders. “I am blessed to have a system in place, including loyal drivers that work for me. We are still not on Skip The Dishes and I am thankful I don’t have to go that route.”

“If staff have any doubts about their health, we tell them not to come in and to get tested,” he says. “The layoffs were very difficult. We have kept in touch and I am trying to help with any questions they have. Some of the laid-off employees may have been leaving in summer after school was done. Some have other essential jobs. As soon as it is possible to hire them back, I will do that.”

As for currently working staff, he says, “I’ve doubled their tip-out, out of my pocket. The drivers are tipping out too.” And if he is able to benefit from government programs he’ll pass that on to staff through bonuses.

“We have one employee’s wife who is going to get some pizza-themed material and making PPE masks for the staff. . . . In a week they may be mandatory – who knows.”

Medd wonders what the future will hold. “What else should I add? ¬Frozen pizzas? Pizza starter kits for families? Selling sauces? Will my dining room ever open again?! We are taking it day by day and week to week. Sales are down because of no dining room, but we are doing better than most, I guess.”

Here you’ll read about pizzeria operators from across Canada and have a chance to share your own views on a wide range of topics. To offer feedback or ideas for future topics, get in touch with editor Colleen Cross at ccross@annexbusinessmedia.com or 519-428-3471 ext. 261.