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  • Napa Valley Marketplace Magazine

Napa's Generous Restaurants Continue to Quietly Give Back

By Lisa Adams Walter

Napa Valley Restaurants have not only been in the trenches for nearly a year, they have more movingly been in the foxhole for our community, fighting for all of us, and each other. The key to success in a foxhole is the ability to rely on others—you need to know that someone has your back.

While as a community, we have all been frustrated by the challenges and changes in our lives caused by disasters and the COVID-19 pandemic, it is well known that restaurants are one business sector that have been faced with mounting obstacles and suffered tremendous loss.

Over the years, whether it be a school fundraiser, a charity auction, or a campaign to support someone in need, the restaurants are repeatedly asked for donations of gift certificates, food, services, use of space and dine and donate nights. In the best of times, and even the worst of times, restaurateurs are caregivers and repeatedly step up to help those in need.


“After an amazing 2019, 2020 was probably the most challenging year of my entire career,” owner Justin Graffigna of Il Posto Trattoria said, “The pandemic lasted far longer than anyone anticipated and is still continuing. It posed so many difficulties and uncertainties no one was anticipating. Closing down to to-go food only, reopening outdoor, opening to 25%, then to 50%, back to outdoors, and finally back to takeout only. It’s been like a yo-yo, with lots of ups and lots of downs.”

“Every time we figure out what to do, and think, ‘hey this is cool, we’ve got this,’ it all changes,” said owner Chuck Meyer of Napa Palisades Saloon, referencing the ever-changing restrictions and allowances imposed upon restaurants. “Every situation is unprecedented, and as a restaurant, you don’t have a business model for it until you have done it for a few weeks—then you get a pattern, and then they change it.”

Every dining establishment has experienced the restrictions put in place for staff and customer safety. Creativity and reinvention of business has been paramount. Most now offer takeout or delivery, which adds to costs as to-go containers and packaging are pricey. Many have invested thousands of dollars to build expensive outdoor seating spaces—that sat vacant during the highest levels of shutdown. Some restaurants have followed closely in compliance, others have temporarily closed, while some have forever shuttered their doors.

Bettina Rouas of Angèle Restaurant and Bar reports that 2020 was the hardest year of her life, “The biggest challenge was figuring out what to do next to keep going and help my staff. 2021 unfortunately was not the start we had hoped, and we are still trying to figure out how to stay relevant and to stay positive.”

“Reflecting on the past ten—almost eleven—years of our restaurant, I can honestly say that the past 11 months were the most challenging of my career as a chef and a restaurant owner,” said chef and owner Tyler Rodde of Oenotri. “Nothing has threatened our existence like the shutdowns required by this pandemic.”

“Staying safe. Constantly adapting to ever-changing conditions. Keeping my team together and safe until we can reopen, again,” are some of the challenges chef and owner Ken Frank of La Toque restaurant cites.

Owner Fred Corona of Taqueria Rosita added, “COVID-19 has wreaked havoc on the hospitality business, in particular, businesses that are involved in food and beverage. Between the shelter-in-place orders and the reduction in occupancy of our dining rooms, it’s killing all restaurants. Some will get by, but if your employees are not working, you kind of feel responsible for that. I see that 2021 will be more of the same. The restaurant business is hard enough and then you throw in a pandemic and wildfires, it becomes a grim situation.”

Pivoting from a full-service restaurant to takeout only was echoed by owner Thomas Finch of Filippi’s Pizza Grotto, “We have had to be creative in order to allow our staff to continue working in creative new jobs so that they can sustain their own livelihoods during this time. Many have chosen to leave the industry and the state as well. When we reopened, some staff did not want to return for fear of contracting the virus. This left us short staffed upon reopening. Then there was the challenge of getting the products needed because many of the factories and plants were also closed, leaving shortages in the industry.”

“The extended shelter-at-home guidelines over 2020, and now into 2021, require that business operators think and act differently to meet changing needs and demands across the community,” founder and owner Ben Koenig of Heritage Eats said, “This has broadly meant finding creative ways to serve locals more regularly at home, who are also handling their own new challenges. Many are juggling multiple responsibilities with work-from-home or adjusted working hours and virtual school. With the continued extension of shelter-in-place guidelines, personal habits and professional schedules have the potential to drastically change more permanently from pre-pandemic ways. All of this puts a high level of uncertainty on the future of any business, without strategic adjustments to future operations and marketing.”

“Besides what everybody else is dealing with, keeping our staff taken care of and making sure that they are able to provide for their families has been challenging,” according to Director of Operations Allison Hallum of Eiko’s and Napa Noodles, “We accomplished this by paying fair living wages above minimum wage. We also used our staff to freshen up the restaurant and work on deep cleaning and maintenance projects, giving them some hours to support their families while we are closed.”

Hallum, whose family owns both restaurants, also noted that they changed internal tipping procedures so that everyone could still pay their mortgage and put their kids through school. “We didn’t want their lives to be disrupted,” she added, “It was really about taking care of those that worked for us, so they could take care of the community which has been so supportive and giving this past year. Every time we gave back, the community gave back to us tenfold.”

The unknown future was also referenced within the challenges of 2020 and 2021 by owner Eric Keffer of Cole’s Chop House, “The uncertainty. You could change and pivot, but the decisions you make could have long-term ramifications. If you don’t change up your mindset, you won