By Shawn Chitnis

DENVER (CBS4) – A restaurant owner adjusting to the new way of operating in Colorado during the coronavirus outbreak says she has seen an immediate change in business. Many on her team at Parisi have family and friends in Italy and saw the changes coming weeks ahead of time because of what they were watching overseas in their homeland and around Europe.

(credit: CBS)

“We could kind of see how this was progressing and then once we heard that it was hitting the United States, we started to try and come up with some game plans, worst case scenario situations,” said Christine Parisi, the owner of Parisi and Firenze a Tavola. “So you kind of get this foresight of the importance of social distancing.”

(credit: CBS)

The two concepts located in the Berkeley neighborhood provide a fine dining and fast causal experience for Italian cuisine. Parisi has served Denver for more than 20 years. This business model provided the team the understanding to handle takeout orders before the state required all restaurants to eliminate “dine-in” because of coronavirus. But even before that requirement this week, they expected the change would be necessary because of what relatives shared with staff in Italy.

“Between the time that we have closed the workplace and the schools and the time that we have closed down the restaurants and the public events is much shorter here,” Parisi told CBS4 on Wednesday. “So I am hoping that that translates to a much smaller gap.”

Business is a fraction of what it normally is when they are fully operational so they are looking to eliminate expenses wherever possible. The team is made up of 40 employees and Parisi is only using a handful of employees at the moment. The restaurant has a setup that allows customers to stay in their car. Parisi is also exploring a way to deliver orders. One challenge is determining if it is actually more helpful for employees to become unemployed and receive benefits rather than continue working with minimal hours and pay.

“I think people have understood that I am really trying to retain as many people that need this job,” she said. “If I can’t, sending them in the right direction for some sort of aid as that develops.”

One way Parisi hopes to help her employees and customers is by reducing the price of food by 10 percent. She encourages that money saved go to her staff who may not receive tips when everyone is stretched thin financially. She is also paying employees the standard minimum wage, rather than the amount set for restaurant employees who usually collect tips.

“I have been absolutely astounded by the outpouring of support and love and everything from people,” Parisi said. “I’ve even had people purchasing gift cards.”

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She has kept the community updated on how the business is handling the outbreak by posting on social media and sending out an email newsletter. She greatly appreciates customers buying gift cards not knowing when they will be able to use them to dine at the restaurant.

One of her employees is in Italy at the moment and her husband is also the executive chef for the restaurant. After restaurant week, that employee left for Italy to visit their daughter expecting back home while her husband remained in Colorado. The baby arrived and everyone is healthy and quarantined in the country. But Parisi worries about how that member of her team will get back into the U.S. and Colorado. A challenge not just for the restaurant, but the family that is made up of her employees, including her executive chef.

“The big question mark – is she is supposed to return next week?” Parisi questioned.  “It’s an emotional process because here his wife’s gone. Yes, it was for a joyous occasion but under very strained circumstances.”

The restaurant will take as many orders as it can, looking for ways to keep everyone healthy. They even removed menus so there is one less surface for customers to touch while inside the business. Parisi says she knows there is a team behind her waiting to get back to work.

“Here and ready waiting on the sidelines ready to come back when things start back up,” she said.

Shawn Chitnis


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