Darryl Reginelli

As Louisiana is in phase 2 of reopening, we decided to talk to some local business leaders within New Orleans about how they believe quarantine has gone and what they have learned. Working through COVID has been difficult and posed a new set of challenges. We’ve all had to adapt in one way or another whether that’s in our professional lives or personal lives. It’s been particularly difficult for small businesses learning to navigate through PPP loans, trying to maintain staff and being uncertain of when businesses can fully reopen. New Orleans once again shows its resilience during this tough time and has continued to band together to begin what is hopefully a safe re-entry into normalcy.

Darryl Reginelli is a New Orleans native with a love for all things pizza. He opened the first Reginelli’s Pizzeria on the corner of Magazine and State St. in 1996. He has since expanded the brand to nine locations serving New Orleans and surrounding communities. He is also the owner and co-founder of Picnic Provisions & Whiskey, a modern corner restaurant serving modern picnic fare.

What impact has COVID-19 had on your businesses?

The uncertain nature of the COVID-19 epidemic has forced us to look at how we can keep our restaurants viable for the long haul.  COVID-19 presents a new challenge because, unlike recovering from a hurricane or a slow summer, there isn’t a clear timeframe for when we will get to the other side.  To stay competitive, we have remained focused on the lifeblood of our business—the core regular customer base that has enabled us to grow to where we are today.

What changes have your businesses had to make to adapt to quarantine?
Three major changes include increased safety measures, strategic marketing, and better cost control. The safety of our team has been our biggest focus.  We implemented clear, non-negotiable protocol that would foster a healthy work environment.  For team members this required daily temperature checks, mandatory mask wearing, required social distancing, and timed hand-washing and surface sanitation.  For our guests this included touch free delivery service, curbside takeout, and touch free payment options.  We also redirected our marketing funds to drive to-go business.  We are lucky that pick-up, delivery, and catering orders have always contributed heavily to our sales mix.  With stay at home mandates in place and social distancing top of mind, we have been able to capitalize on increased consumer demand for pizza “to go”.  Finally, we swiftly re-worked our food and labor budgets to account for expected sales losses.  We honed in on greater cost control measures to ensure each restaurant’s long-term financial stability. 

Were there any resources or advice you gave your employees to help them during this time?
We understand that if our team members do not feel safe and comfortable in their work environment we do not survive.  To ensure this, we provided all PPE including masks, gloves, and hand sanitizer.  We clarified clear protocol for our teams and guests, and assured our leaders that we would support them in its enforcement.  We used PPP funding to provide hazard pay, additional bonuses for managers, and PTO for team members required to quarantine.  We also offered support with navigating unemployment claims for those team members who were unable to continue working.  Overall, we tried to approach each situation with the sensitivity and understanding that everyone is experiencing this crisis differently.

What advice would you give to other business owners specifically in New Orleans about how to restart business when quarantine is over?
Less is more.  As our brand has grown so have our dining rooms, our menus, and our overhead expenses.  It has become clear that with a healthy to-go business we can offset the need for a large dining area.  As we consider future Reginelli’s Pizzeria locations our focus will probably return to our original business model – smaller dining rooms with a streamlined menu.  Keeping costs down will be essential as we move into an uncertain economic future. 

Though this is a tough time, what has inspired optimism for you and your businesses moving forward?
As it is with most challenges, our optimism is rooted in the energy and attitudes of our team members and guests.  These are not easy times.  The known challenges of the restaurant industry are now compounded with safety concerns and financial uncertainty.  However, our ability to come together during times of adversity is the cornerstone of our strength as a business.  Our teams have risen to this challenge beyond what we could have expected.  Because of their efforts we continue to be rewarded by what always encourages us to press on – the gratitude of our satisfied guests.   

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