In March and early April, restaurants and food businesses around the country were being affected in various ways as restrictions were put in place to help control the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus.
Like many states and cities, Oklahoma City eateries were told to shutter their dining rooms and offer to-go or delivery options only. Bellini's Ristorante & Grill, 6305 Waterford Blvd, Suite 100, was one of those local favorites that suddenly had to navigate the uncertainty of dealing with social distancing, the closing of non-essential services and continuing to serve its loyal customers
“One thing we were proud of is we did not wait until the city decided to close restaurants for dine-in. We were very aware of what was going on around the world in response to the COVID virus and we already had a team meeting with or staff and reduced our labor drastically before being told we had to shut the doors,” said Shawnna Underwood, restaurant manager, in March
“Everyone was willing to take a cut in hours, and we have tried to share resources with our team as best we can during all this. Now we are working hard to at least cover operating costs through take out, curbside and delivery so we can guarantee our team employment after all this blows over.”
Taking care of the employees was a major goal for long-time local restaurateur Tommy Byrd, who founded Bellinis. For many local businesses, letting go of employees was among the most heart-breaking results of the pandemic’s restrictions.
“This was the hardest part for me personally. My people mean more to me than I can express in words. Tommy and I pride ourselves in developing a culture within these four walls of our business that is more like a family than it is a business,” said Underwood.
“We have so many special people on our team who genuinely care for our guests and for one another. Many don't have much materially, but have hearts bigger than any one person in the world and illustrate their gratitude through the pride they take in their work.”
This event in history left Byrd and Underwood with no answers or solutions for their team for the first time. But they made it very clear to everyone on the staff that they would do everything possible to keep the restaurant going.
“And most importantly, we would be more than proud to have every single person back once things get back to normal,” Underwood said.
Bellini’s used the power of social media to post daily deals, discounts and even some family meal deals. They researched foundations which were offering money to help the service industry and forwarded that information to the staff to apply for some assistance.
“We have successfully generated a solid curbside, to go and delivery foundation, we are able to bring on two employees each day to work for tips,” Underwood said. “And let me say - our guests have been generous! It is incredible to see the generosity of our community toward our team! We are a small family restaurant, so many of our regulars we know personally, we have their phone numbers and e-mail addresses. Every one of them has been by the restaurant for food to go.
That community support made all the difference in a tough time.
“I feel we are blessed to be part of a smaller sub-community in OKC (Nichols Hills, The Village and Belle Aisle). All of these communities are filled with other small business owners who understand how important this is to us and how important our people are to us,” Underwood said. “We would like to thank them so much. We cannot do this without them. But most importantly, thank you for letting us continue to do what we love most, which is serving them.”
Underwood said she hoped their efforts helped people to smile and Tommy is praying for everyone's health and safety during this time and cannot wait to see everyone in the restaurant dining together again soon!"