“The restaurant industry, more than any other industry in the nation, has suffered the most significant sales and job losses since the COVID-19 outbreak began,” (National Restaurant Association). Losing about 40% of revenue, even with delivery and take out services still running, many Toronto businesses are unfortunately being forced to shut down.
I talked to Rocco Mastrangelo Jr., Cafe Diplomatico (Cafe Dip; the Dip) owner, about how he’s managing during this time and what others can do to follow suit.
“The Summer months are where the bread and butter is,” Rocco says about the future of this pandemic and his restaurant. The shortened patio season, along with the cancellation of the Euro Cup and the Taste of Little Italy street festival (which would usually have them throwing a street party and expanding their patio), leaves the Dip with a significant loss of income and revenue.
The staff of Cafe Dip has suffered greatly from the pandemic, feeling the financial burden of pay-cuts and layoffs. Rocco was forced to let go of staff veterans who have been working at the Cafe longer than he was even a partner of the restaurant. And while his staff was understanding of the situation, it was definitely a tough call.
For the first two weeks of the COVID-19 city-wide shutdown, Rocco (and Cafe Dip) took it hard. Even their UberEats business was down by 50%. More people opted to cook and eat at home– and even now that places are slowly opening back up, “only a third of customers are expected to come back,” he says. The other two-thirds are said to go to other, more branded (chain) restaurants, or are not going out to eat at all until a vaccine comes out.
“We all need to have a strategic plan (for reopening),” Rocco says. Even with the CafeTO Program being run by Major John Tory, “if businesses start opening up too fast and all at once, they will be crowding the streets and blocking a lot of foot and car traffic.” Following the city’s guidelines and allowing for new hygiene protocols is most important.
Now, Rocco is relying on Cafe Dip’s reputation of being an unpretentious, inclusive restaurant with affordable and good quality food. By using delivery services and allowing for take-out, along with offering family meals and specials, luckily they are able to manage.
Rocco advises other business owners to “stay healthy, stay focused, and stay safe.” He says, “If you give yourself a chance to fight, you’ll have a chance.”
Likewise, the 2009 recession taught him to “roll with the punches” and use his time and resources wisely. He invested in an outdoor retractable roof over his patio, allowing him to maximize and improve sales especially during Toronto’s extreme weather conditions, which has helped him to this day.
The key takeaway: Don’t give up!
Especially coming from a business owner whose restaurant has survived over 50 years when other businesses in the area have not, that’s good advice for all of us to listen to right now.