'Restaurants on the Edge' Chef Nick Liberato dishes on how to sustain a restaurant business during lockdown
You might know him from his recent food and travel show on Netflix titled 'Restaurants on the Edge', where he pulled up failing restaurants across various global locations and took us on a virtual tour of exotic locales while exploring local culture and signature food.
However, there’s much more to Chef Nick Liberato than culinary docuseries. A Philadelphia native, Liberato moved from his home town to the west coast and started his own catering company Calidelphia.
In a few years, the once small venture thrived and served a slew of Hollywood celebrities including Will Smith, Tom Hanks, Barbara Streisand, Cher, Hank Azaria and many more.
In no time, he acquired the Venice Whaler and turned around its sales to touch $4 million. He is famous for blending his culinary talent with his passion for traveling and business acumen and became the true restaurateur we know him today.
Today, as the restaurant business struggles hard to stay afloat in the current market scenario, grappling with losses from COVID-19, an entrepreneur like Chef Liberato's experience comes as great support.
We got into a candid conversation with the chef and restaurant owner who talked about how restaurants can survive this and what it would take to outgrow the crisis.
How was your experience with 'Restaurants on the Edge', transforming failing eateries and exploring amazing countries?
It was definitely an experience I will never forget! Traveling around the world, eating at the best restaurants and diving into every culture was a dream come true! As a chef/restaurateur, I was really able to connect with every country we went to with food as the universal language.
The current pandemic of COVID-19 has affected every industry. How do you think it’s affecting the food business?
Our industry has taken one of the biggest hits for sure. I think, so far, many people underestimated this business and everyone will need to make adjustments, big or small. Some will survive, some will not. Once this crisis is over, there will be many opportunities. But now is the time to plan for the relaunch and how sustainable your business will be.
How big do you think is the impact of the lockdown on restaurants?
The lockdown has made every restaurant completely change their business model in order to at least survive. In some countries, there are businesses subject to only deliveries or takeaways. Curbside pickups, no cash payments, with a simple takeaway model are not enough to carry on a business.
Where do you think the restaurant business will head once the lockdown is lifted? Do you think it could/would take a dip?
I think you can look at it from different perspectives. How soon will this be over? And when it does, will people even want to be in a close setting, in a group? Clearly everyone's been out of work so I would imagine that will keep people from dining out much for sure. Floor plans will probably switch from communal seating to how many can dine at one time. I feel with the right model, the guests will adjust. But you will need to make the guests feel safe. So, I think now is the best time to stay connected with your guests/customers on social media and keep them informed on what you're doing during the lockdown.
How do you think restaurant employers can support their employees in these difficult times?
When I first closed my restaurants, we made sure to give all the food to our employees. Gofundme is another great way to support your restaurant staff. Ideally, you could remain compactly open (with limited staff) but assuring the rest that they will have their jobs once the pandemic is over. If the business is open, it is a good idea to offer free family meals to the staff in need.
What would you advise newbie chefs and/or restaurateurs whose business got affected by the pandemic?
We all know that at one point, this and you have to evolve with your business. But this is not a time to complain. It might sound harsh but the restaurant business wasn't easy before and is neither now. It has always thrown us curveballs, maybe not like this. This is unprecedented, no one has gone through this before but we will need to keep changing with changing situations. Stay positive and keep connected with your team and your guests.
You can watch Chef Nick on 'Restaurants on the Edge' currently streaming on Netflix.