Delivery and take-out rise, but Ridgefield pizza restaurants still lose business
Venice Pizza opened in Ridgefield the same year that American involvement in the Vietnam War ended and the Watergate hearings began.
Now in its fifth decade, however, Venice is doing something for the first time: Delivering pizzas.
“We never had to before,” said co-owner Jose Escobar, better known to long-time customers as Joey. “Because of this we had to change.”
The this which Escobar is referring to is the coronavirus, which has sliced the restaurant industry with a serrated knife. Prohibited (by governor order) from serving customers inside, many restaurants in Connecticut and other states are trying to survive on take-out and delivery. Some have cut staff, reduced hours or closed temporarily; others are likely to shut down for good.
Because deliveries and take-out usually provide a healthy percentage of revenue, pizza-focused places might seem well equipped to stay afloat in such choppy water. It depends — on business model and other factors— said four owners and one general manager of five popular pizza restaurants in Ridgefield.
“Deliveries and pick-up are always strong, and now they are even stronger; I’d say that we’re doing 20% more deliveries, at least,” said Edmar Carneiro, the owner of Eddie’s Pizza & Pasta. “But because we have no table service, business overall is down 30 to 40 percent. It’s scary.”
“We only have seating for 19 people inside and 20 outside, so most of our business is take-out and delivery,” said Steven Vatici, the owner of Village Pizza & Pizza. “We have more deliveries, but business is still down overall. I think everybody bought so much food at the beginning [of the coronavirus crisis] that they are still stocked up.”
Like Village Pizza, Planet Pizza has limited seating and relies primarily on deliveries and take-out. That hasn’t prevented a steep decline in business, according to owner Domenick Farago.
“When I first got wind of the coronavirus I thought we might be OK; 70 percent, or maybe 65 percent, of our business is take-out or delivery,” Farago said. “We are doing a little more delivery but not enough to offset the losses. We don’t have people stopping in to buy a slice, and other products, like [soft drinks], only sell when people dine in.
“I’ve had to cut payroll by 34%,” Farago added. “The first two weeks you are able to weather the storm, then it gets tough.”
“We’ve been fortunate that we haven’t had to do delivery since we opened (in 1973),” said Escobar, the owner (along with his brother, German) of Venice Pizza. “We have a loyal group of customers and the place is packed, especially on weekend nights. Now we don’t have those people eating at the restaurant, and we are doing take-out and delivery, which we just started. We’re still trying to learn the [delivery] system.”
At 850 Degrees Wood Fired, the situation is similar: The restaurant relies on a large dine-in crowd and take-out orders. Unlike Venice, however, 850 Degrees hasn’t started delivering.
“We’re fortunate that we have a strong customer base, so our take-out business has gone up,” said Pat Sexton, the general manager at 850 Degrees. “Not super significantly, but more than we normally do.”
To recognize its customers, 850 Degrees is offering a free 12-inch pizza to anyone who is struggling financially during the coronavirus crisis. “No questions asked,” Sexton said. “We don’t think anyone should have to go hungry. If someone needs a pizza every day until this is over, we will make it for free.”
All five restaurants are offering curbside pick-up for customers who prefer not to enter.
“We bring the food right out to the car and will put it in the trunk or the back seat,” Carneiro said. “That part is going well. People can pay ahead and not even need to get out of their cars.”
“We’re on Main Street and it’s been empty. People are able to drive right up and park, which isn’t usually the case,” Fagaro said. “It’s been nice that way.”
Vatici says the empty streets have made him nostalgic.
“I actually miss the traffic in town, which is something I never thought I would,” he said. “I’ll be happy when I see all the cars back on the road. That will be a good sign.”