When the Sicilian Butcher opened in December at Chandler Fashion Center, owner Joey Maggiore was intent on bringing to the East Valley the same Italian cuisine that brought plaudits to his original restaurant in Phoenix near north Scottsdale.
But then the pandemic struck the restaurant industry and the Sicilian Butcher is still serving up its craft meatballs, homemade pasta and other Italian delights – but in a way Maggiore could never have imagined last Christmas season.
Maggiore has changed its business model -- from having a booming dining room that was once a place for family dinners and large gatherings to limited capacity for social distancing.
To keep its doors open, he has come up with creative solutions to employ its staff and service the community amid a greater reluctance these days to dine-in.
“We had an immense amount of support from the businesses and residents of Chandler as it was an anticipated location,” Maggiore said.
When the pandemic struck, he explained, “as a family-operated, independently-owned restaurant group, we were fortunate to make quick decisions while planning how to reopen during the shutdown to quickly adapt to the changes and keep the dining room and kitchen open while keeping our staff employed.
“We didn’t give up but instead became creative to conform to current times as the pandemic changed how the restaurant industry operates.”
Instead of partnering with a third-party delivery service, Maggiore said, “We made the agile decision to provide an in-house delivery service for our customers who choose to dine at home.”
The delivery team consists of a couple employees designated for all delivery phone orders and deliveries within a 10-mile radius – a service exclusive to the Chandler location.
“We gave our front-of-the-house staff such as servers the opportunity to make extra income with the delivery service position,” Maggiore said.
Maggiore also started a “grab-and-go market” at its sister restaurant next door, The Sicilian Baker.
It offers pre-made family meals such as lasagna, meatballs, pasta sauces and pasta – as well as curated olive oils, artisanal meats, cheeses, olives and more.
“We rotate the grab-and-go items in the refrigerated section on a daily basis,” Maggiore said. “Guests can find pasta such as paccheri, mafalde or campanelle and sauces such as tomato herb, pesto, or parmesan.
“We keep the Italian market at The Sicilian Baker fully stocked and fresh with new items added frequently. We recently brought in yellow tomatoes from one of our favorite producers.”
“These are things we are making in-house and we feel that the best Sicilian meals are made from fresh ingredients,” he continued.
As it happened, he was in the process of creating a family style to-go menu before the shutdown, “so the decreased demand for prepared meals allowed us to reimagine the space for the market, package some of our favorite pastas and pre-cooked ingredients and order some of our favorite Italian goods,” Maggiore said.
“Our creative team has always wanted to have a grab-and-go Italian market at The Sicilian Baker,” he explained. “However, we didn’t have the space for it.”
When the pandemic hit, “We moved the cafe tables outdoors and replaced the sitting area with the Italian market. During the shut-down, we quickly curated our favorite products from the top producers in Italy for the non-refrigerated/dried goods section such as imported olives, olive oil, dried pasta, wine and coffee.”
The market offers an assortment of pastries and other baked goods, sandwiches, and Sicilian desserts as well as fresh-made pasta and pasta sauces, hand rolled meatballs, chicken cutlets and take-and-bake lasagna in the refrigerated section.
For in-house diners, The Sicilian Butcher is following all safety protocols and has a certified “disinfector,” employee testing and weekly disinfecting services.
“These are an astronomical cost to the business, but it is now a reality they need to face if they want to keep operating,” Maggiore added.
“We are covering employee testing, weekly sanitation and virus vaporizing services, additional cleaning supplies, masks, paid sick leave as well as food costs from the times we have had to open and close without notice,” he added.
Maggiore said there is still “definitely a large portion of the population that is reluctant to eat out, especially during the middle of summer when it is often too hot to eat on the patio.”
But he said the Sicilian Butcher’s misting system, the enhanced safety protocols – and the restaurant’s reputation – is luring back patrons.
“We have seen a lot of our clientele return for dine-in,” he said. “They appreciate the extra levels of care we are taking to keep them safe and the transparency we showed when we had early exposures.”
And the Italian market has opened a new vista for the restaurant.
“Families immediately responded to the gourmet grab-and-go meals,” he said. “They like having a different option from traditional grocery stores. Our customers have been purchasing our made-from-scratch fresh pasta, meatballs, sauces, and lasagna and can easily heat up these meals at the comforts of home. While they are picking up their meals, they also have been grabbing desserts like cannoli and gelato or coffee as a pick-me-up.”
Do you maintain social distancing at the bar and how do patrons seem to react to that?
Yes, we do the best we can to monitor this. This is one of the reasons we have our disinfector. There has been some negative feedback at times, but overall people respect the need to keep other members of the community safe.