Restaurateurs rise to the challenges of the pandemic in Food Network documentary

‘Restaurant Hustle 2020: All on the Line’ – Stepping up when the chips are down

Antonia Lofaso

While no one has gone through the pandemic completely unscathed, it is the restaurant industry that has really taken it on the chin.

Local restrictions placed on seating capacity, indoor dining and business hours have hurt revenue and forced restaurants to close, in some cases permanently. Those that managed to remain open were forced to strategize to save their business and support their employees. Some did takeout and delivery, while others served food to frontline workers and those in need. The changes wrought by this global catastrophe will no doubt reverberate for decades to come.

Some of those challenges are chronicled in the Food Network documentary “Restaurant Hustle 2020: All on the Line.” Premiering Sunday, Dec. 27, the two-hour film from executive producer Guy Fieri (“Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives”) follows world-class chefs and restaurateurs Maneet Chauhan, Christian Petroni, Marcus Samuelsson and Antonia Lofaso as they became amateur videographers to record some of the extraordinary measures they were forced to take to keep their businesses up and running and their employees employed.

For Lofaso (“Top Chef”), who was forced to close one of her three Los Angeles-area restaurants, that meant a national delivery service.

“We’ve already started to see sales where people want to get empanada kits and rice ball kits and pasta kits in Cleveland, in Kansas, in New York, all over the place,” she says. “And so we think that there’s actually going to be another opportunity for revenue for this other sort of national delivery business so that I think this time around we’ll be able to hopefully employ some of the back-of-the-house employees (who) were basically laid off for three months. … So depending on how much we get from that could mean the difference of having a whole other restaurant stay open to do these boxes.”

Lofaso, who normally doesn’t allow cameras into her restaurant operations, became involved in this project because she felt this was a piece of history that future generations could learn from. At this writing, Los Angeles was preparing to go through a second wave of closures and Lofaso was anticipating another round of layoffs. But she’s proud of her employees and wanted to show how they responded to adversity.

“The thing about it is,” she says, “is that I think all my employees feel confident in what we’ve done in the way we’ve been able to keep things afloat that they know that even if it’s three weeks, four weeks or eight weeks, whatever this looks like, but if they hang on they have a place to come back to. And so we’ve set that precedent and so I think they feel a little bit more confident going into this next shutdown with where, ‘I know work has taken care of me.’ So I just feel proud on so many levels.”

George Dickie

George Dickie

George Dickie has been a features writer for Gracenote/Tribune Media Services since 1989, when “Hee-Haw” was still on the air and George “Goober” Lindsay was his first interview. His early interviews ranged from Jim Henson and Dick Van Dyke to Phil Collins and the Dixie Chicks.

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