Friday, October 30, 2020

The restaurant is not a job; it is family

Andrea Spadoni
What is the experience of restaurant owners in Italy, especially those who depend on sit-down dinner service for most of their income? Cousin Leonello Spadoni owns and operates La Favola Mia in Chiesina Uzzanese, a restaurant that normally opens around 7 p.m. After enduring a lockdown in the spring and summer, restaurants had been slowly reopening while operating under strict new protocols. But a strong second wave of the virus has hit Italy, and Leonello recently received some bad news. Read this October 27 account by his journalist son Andrea to get an idea of what Leonello and other restaurateurs in Italy must face.


By Andrea Spadoni

A long and demanding Saturday night at the restaurant had just concluded, and we were watching the Mediaset news on television with the headlines of the next day: “More restrictive measures to combat the infection of the Coronavirus. Restaurants must close at 6 p.m.”

We almost didn’t believe it—this blow coming after all the efforts made in the months of lockdown to invent home delivery and the money spent (and lost) to comply with government regulations and customer distancing. It had not been easy, but deep down we understood that it was right, and we were slowly returning the business to its normal life. Now, however, it seemed too much to have to close again, as ours is mainly an evening activity. Instead it happened. And we are forced to start over in La Favola Mia.

Leonello after he heard the
latest lockdown requirements.
At the moment my father heard the news, I looked him in the face. His disconsolate expression displayed the frustration of someone who has dedicated his whole life serving food to others. Anyone does not know him thoroughly cannot understand the commitment this entails. I photographed him, so you too can see the look on his face.

My parents have been running restaurants for 40 years, and even though I never did it as my first job, I grew up among the tables, customers and kitchens. It is an environment that is part of me. It is a world where sacrifices serve to make others happy, and this is the reason we are passionate about this work, why we fell in love with our restaurant.

If it were for the money, we would all have stopped since 2008 at least, since in Italy the profits in this business are now zero. All that remains is the value of the happy moments in life, almost all spent at the restaurant table. This is what my family does, this is what restaurateurs do. They sacrifice themselves every day, without schedules, without salaries, without guarantees, without anyone paying them a euro if one day they get sick—all to offer and share moments of happiness with customers who have become true friends over the years.

The restaurant has its drama, its characters with well-defined roles, its setting made of scents, colors, dishes that come out full from the kitchen and return empty, its rhythms marked by the steps of the waiters and the time it takes each dish to cook. It has its own voices, those of the chef who calls the dishes of the orders, those of the waiters and sommeliers who tell you about the delicacies that you will soon be able to taste, as if they were lines from a poem. The restaurant is like a theater, full of emotions, emphasis, highlights, climaxes and tension. It is a show decorated with special dishes that are good for the body and soul of the public, which we call friends.

All this, however, requires an out-of-the-ordinary self-denial. My father Leonello and mother Carla, in all these years I have observed them, have only worked. They did it honestly, in an excellent way. Day after day, evening after evening, Christmas after Christmas, party after party. And that’s okay with us. Because the restaurant is air, oxygen, it is that place where we feel good even though we are aware that today being a restaurateur is no longer convenient.

When we were asked to make sacrifices, we made them. When in the first years of financial hard times we saw our premises empty, we went on anyway. We struggled, but we consoled ourselves with the satisfaction of the customer who said thanks for the dinner we had served him.

The restaurant, for us and I believe for many others who have chosen this job, is also the story of a family that has been handed down the tradition from generation to generation. It is identity. It is the respect we have for our parents, for our grandparents, who had achieved all this before us and who had taught us how to carry it out. The restaurant is more than just a job that guarantees a living. It is family. You are not guaranteed a salary, but the occupation does promise you love, belonging and a team spirit.

Today is my father’s birthday, and I think he doesn’t really want to celebrate. But I know that even with a thousand difficulties, he will always come up with a new dish to let me taste, and once finished he will come and ask me: “Was it good?”

This is enough for us to be happy. Happy birthday, dad.

In less stressful times, Leonello and I met in his restaurant in 2014 after my research revealed how we are related (we are fourth cousins, once removed).



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