Local Business Update: Da Claudio

Linda Marini knew what was coming. Her mother reads the Chinese news, so she had a full sense of what things looked like there. Her husband is from Italy, and she lived there as well, so her Italian friends had warned her. She and her husband Claudio opened their first restaurant in Midtown just before 9/11. They rebuilt the business after that. The second one was on Front Street, Barbarini, and was washed out with Sandy. They rebuilt after that.

None of that has made this any easier.

“Oh my god I have to tell 32 families — families who don’t have healthcare, who don’t have savings — that we have to close,” was Linda’s first thought. “We are now looking at the end of May and it’s daunting for a lot of people.”

It’s daunting for their family as well. She and Claudio and their three kids live on Murray Street, as they have for almost 20 years, and like so many small business owner/operators, all they have is invested in the restaurant. He runs the front of house and she runs the back office and they built the place out with their own money. Now any attempt to stanch the bleed has to come from their own savings as well.

Her first instinct was to close the business altogether, and they did, for nine days. But then the staff started to panic, and they decided to open for deliveries. Of course this will not solve the problem: even when the neighborhood was fully occupied, deliveries were only 10 percent of the business. Of her staff of 32, she has been able to employ 10, but only in part-time shifts. The waitstaff filed for unemployment right away, but then she had to figure out how to be fair to the rest — and how to be flexible. Her front of the house manager wanted to work, but he has to ride his bike from the Upper East Side. When it rains, Linda fills in for him.

They have also tried to get creative. The restaurant is offering gift cards, selling wine by the bottle at 40 percent off, and now has made arrangements with some of the specialty suppliers so customers can get Da Claudio ingredients delivered straight to their homes — Sogno Toscano for Italian imports (use DACLAUDIO10 to get 10 percent off) and DeBragga, for the highest quality meats (use DACLAUDIO20 for 20 percent off) — with the notion that every little bit helps. But they are still going backwards fast. They used this month’s rent to honor payroll and to pay vendors, and now it will just be a chain reaction.

“The relief packages are not coming soon enough, so we have no option but to carve into our personal funds to keep the business going, especially in an industry where the margins are so slim already,” said Linda. “But then the conversation shifts to personal safety, when you come home and your kids ask you if it is all worth it.”

There have been some bright spots.

“We had a very loyal team behind us which in this industry is very rare. We have people on our staff that we have worked with for over a decade, so it’s our responsibility to come back in some way. We were very proud to come back after Sandy, and we were beginning to stand back up. When we opened there was nothing here, but we had a great landlord and we took our chances and it’s even better than before,” Linda said.

“We also have a very loyal clientele who have been so supportive, so we wanted to come back in some way. The success of our restaurant is personal. On any given night we know half the tables. And at moments like this we feel the love. It’s heartwarming. But enough is enough already.”

Right now they are open for deliveries from 5 to 9. You can check www.daclaudionyc.com for all menus and call for daily specials. If possible, they would prefer you call directly at 212-285-2668 or email claudio@daclaudio.com. Otherwise, GrubHub and Caviar.

The staff is spread out throughout the restaurant with tables arranged in quadrants. The line chefs work on either side of the open range, so they can keep their distance. Everyone is wearing masks and gloves, but they are also still scared. Most have to travel to work, and come because they have families to feed. Linda is filling out applications for assistance — “I’m a pro by now” — but here again is another challenge:

“We don’t know the full extent of the damages yet to know how to rebuild, so you can’t even answer all the questions on the application. In 9/11 and Sandy, we saw the damage overnight and we could do an estimate. Here, we don’t know.”

She’s not running the numbers — instead, Linda said, you just have to trust your intuition.

“My intuition tells me that it will take a while before things calm down, but I do think if you are flexible and in communication with people, there are ways to work around this. I reached out to my landlord right away, and he trusts we will do whatever it takes to keep it going. My staff has that confidence also and I think that’s really important. I do think we will be back and be stronger when we get there, but I am scared for how the environment will change before then. So for now we are doing what we can,” and like everyone, “until further notice.”

 

7 Comments

  1. I am typically pretty cynical but think the stimulus package is aimed at businesses like this. For smaller businesses, they will give you a loan equal to two and a half times payroll that will be forgiven if you use it only for payroll. I am not an expert but urge them to look into it and hope they can stick it out. Great restaurant and great people.

    • The loan is great if your staff can work from home. It is great that we will be able to pay our employees for the 8 weeks. Some of the funds will cover rents and utilities. The problem is if I need people to physically be at a place of business to get production up and running. It will get us to June but we will not have any money coming in for the work that can not be done. This work will start in June but how do we pay our employees at that point if you do not have the funds from the jobs that could not be accomplished in the last 10 weeks? The CARES act is a one time loan as of now and you can not apply for a second 8 weeks. they have already extended unemployment for an extra 13 weeks they should do the same for all of the small business.

  2. A pizzeria in Long Island City is doing the following:

    Show our local CoVID-19 heroes your love and appreciation by donating a pie for them. For every pie that is donated we will match it and send to a local hospital the next day. To place your donation simply click on the link below.

    Just a suggestion, perhaps Da Claudio could offer something like this for our local hospital. It would not only keep your employees busy, but would allow local folks to feel like we are helping in a small way.

    Either way, good luck and we look forward to seeing you again soon.

  3. Thanks for sharing this great story about the owners of Da Claudio – they are role models of resilience and compassion. I look to them for inspiration as we try to keep our small bakery operating until the relief package comes through. I’m ready to order a staff lunch delivery right now – thankful for my staff and for their delicious food.

  4. Claudia and Linda are two of the nicest people I’ve ever met. I’m proud to call them my friends. God bless 🙏🙏🙏

  5. Claudio, Linda and the whole crew at our beloved Da Claudio are in our thoughts and prayers. They are true community leaders and anchors and we and their other loyal friends and patrons will be there for them. Stay strong and positive for you are our bell weather. Much love.

Comment: