UConn Women’s Basketball coach Geno Auriemma had just opened the doors to his gorgeous Manchester, Conn. restaurant Café Aura when all of a sudden, it all changed and his restaurant was closed.
Just like that, the beautiful upscale Italian steakhouse that opened for business in an iconic downtown building, was shuttered by the government order, due to the Coronavirus pandemic.
“We were only open 14 weeks before the shutdown,” says Café Aura manager Randy McNamara. “We had just opened up in this beautiful building that Geno always liked, and had a vision for.”
But even the savviest restaurant operator couldn’t have foreseen the sudden closure and all that would be required to stay prepared and poised to reopen when hopefully, business would return.
As a glimmer of hope appears on the horizon, after long weeks spent retrofitting the restaurant with personal protection equipment, making and delivering fine food for hospital workers, and rolling out curbside takeout to customers, Randy McNamara spoke to Boxerbrand blog Recipe for Success about the journey.
Boxerbrand: How have you been getting through this?
McNamara: We’ve been taking advantage of all the programs that have been available. We took the paycheck protection loan, and have been keeping our employees apprised during weekly Zoom meetings. We go through all the updates with them, on the state and federal level, so they understand everything as we learn new details. All our employees have our personal phone numbers, in case they need to talk. One of the most important things is that we’ve been pulling together like a team, and they can’t wait to come back to work.
Boxerbrand: How has Café Aura invested in personal protection equipment?
McNamara: We have made a significant investment in personal protection. It’s been very expensive. We had to buy thermometers at $80 apiece. We’ve purchased and built hand-sanitizer stations. And we’ve built and erected dividers to separate each booth within the restaurant. The list goes on and on. We’re still paying the bills on this.
Boxerbrand: What is your reaction, in general, to the closure of restaurants?
McNamara: I didn’t understand why restaurants had to be closed, but large retail establishments were allowed to remain open. Restaurants are the cleanest, most inspected retail institutions there are. We have so many safety codes and guidelines already in place, and yet, restaurants were closed, but small boutiques that have never been inspected, were allowed to remain open.
Boxerbrand: How will the dining experience at Café Aura change?
McNamara: It’s not going to be the same. Nothing will be on the table when the guests first sits down. Everything will be brought to them at that point, from the glassware to silverware and napkins. All the servers will be wearing masks, which is a shame. They all have such beautiful smiles. One nice feature is that we’ve ordered branded masks printed with the restaurant logo.
Boxerbrand: How have you managed financially?
McNamara: As I mentioned, we took advantage of all the programs available to us. And just prior to the shutdown, we had good revenues. So that has helped.
Boxerbrand: What are your thoughts on returning to normal?
McNamara: It’s a different world. There’s a portion of the population that’s afraid to eat out. They’re afraid, thank you media. But some of our friends in the restaurant industry with places in other states have had different experiences. In Florida, for example, restaurants were allowed to re-open while other states remained closed. So, it wasn’t an equal playing field. That said, we will adapt. There’s no better industry than the restaurant industry at figuring out how to adapt and still produce beautiful food and deliver an excellent experience.
Boxerbrand: Is there a glimmer of hope for Café Aura?
McNamara: We just learned we can open for business on June 17. And we’ve been taking reservations for Father’s Day weekend. People are making reservations into July. So, this is a very good sign. — Café Aura is a customer of Boxerbrand menu covers. Thank you to Café Aura and to all the great restaurants riding out this storm.
**Pictured: Cafe Aura of Manchester, Conn. delivers 200 dinners to the staff of Manchester Memorial Hospital recently.