TROY, NY – This is what the future of dining in New York looks like.
DeFazio’s Pizzeria in Troy welcomed outdoor diners for the first time in three months on Saturday, as the state lifted restrictions on the upstate area – giving Big Apple residents a glimpse at what eating out will look like when local eateries are finally allowed to welcome back diners. .
Celebrating the Capital Region’s cautious return to normalcy, several brave patrons, eager for dinner outside their homes, flocked to the family-run Italian joint 15 minutes outside of Albany.
They sat at red and white checkered tables, under a string of white lights and a statue of St. Joseph, as they dug into pies – but it all ended exactly like the old days.
“Reservations and pre-orders are a must. So are masks, ”said Matt DeFazio, 33, who took on a full-time role at his dad Rocco DeFazio’s restaurant in 2009.
The old-school eatery has room to space tables 10 feet apart, to keep in line with social-distancing rules. And customers can enter the backyard via a separate, outside corridor, Matt noted to The Post.
“We usually put four tables in front of our stores on the sidewalk and up to six tables in the backyard. Whether or not we will actually put that many out there depends on the guidelines we have to follow, ”he said.
The last few months – since the state’s coronavirus shutdown in late March – has been “stressful,” said owner Rocco DeFazio, 68, stirring a pot of traditional Bolognese sauce he said would take four hours from start to finish.
The red sauce joint has been a staple in South Troy since 1951, when Rocco’s parents, Anthony and Josephine DeFazio, started a grocery store. They sold everything from stamps to baking supplies in the city’s then-Little Italy neighborhood. In 1989, Rocco added the pizzeria next door.
“‘The unknown’ has made the last three months the most challenging that I have ever experienced as an employer,” said Matt, holding his 1-year-old son Brady Anthony DeFazio.
Some of the many questions on his mind included: “Is the doorknob sanitized enough? Will staff be coming in that evening? Will we be doing 10 or 40 deliveries that same night? Is COVID-19 on my clothes when I go home to my wife and one-year-old? The list goes on and on, ”he said.
But despite the stress and uncertainty, the family business was able to weather the COVID storm.
“With other restaurants closed, or on limited hours, expanding our delivery range to seven miles, offering breakfast and bringing two highly-experienced chefs on before the pandemic, has resulted in an influx of new customers,” Matt said.
“We have been able to offset our lost revenue that would have come from private parties, pop-ups, and farmers markets.”
And, even amid the pandemic, DeFazio’s was able to keep all their employees, having six to seven staffers each night, between cooking, take-out and delivery services.
Patrons kept coming, often waiting up to four hours for a pizza, and one night the restaurant’s phone died after six hours of non-stop calls.
DeFazio’s chain between 80 to 100 delivery orders and 30 to 40 curbside pickups on an average night, as well as a boost in bulk orders – particularly meatballs and desserts.
Still, “it’s been a stressful job, complying with the changes,” said Matt.
“It’s walking on thin ice,” he added, noting the eatery had at least two visits from health inspectors during the shutdown.
Virus restrictions also stalled the father-and-son’s expansion plans for a new restaurant and catering hall up the street, owing to state restrictions on essential construction.
DeFazio’s reopening for outdoor dining brought back a sense of normalcy to the neighborhood.
“This is our first meal out in a long time,” Matt Pendergast, 60, of nearby Brunswick said, dining with wife Liz, 50, and daughters Kiley, 20 and Erin, 16.
“When you’re enjoying eating out, it’s really been a treat.”
Seeing patrons enjoying a meal al fresco also reminded Rocco of the cherished summer Sunday night dinners he’d had with his family in their yard growing up.
“My mother would make homemade ravioli meatballs sausage and peppers and always a huge delicious green salad from the items she picked from our garden,” said Rocco, referring to the garden still in full bloom beyond the patio area.
“My father would bring out a gallon of his homemade wine. He would pour me a small jelly jar glass with 7-UP soda and some wine and he would place thinly cut fresh peaches in the glass. What a meal, and good times. ”
Outdoor dining is allowed in much of the state, with Long Island, the Hudson Valley (including Westchester, Rockland, Putnam, Duchess, Orange, Ulster and Sullivan counties) set to hit Phase 2 and open up this week.
Still still weeks away in New York City, set to enter Phase 1 on Monday June 8. But Mayor Bill de Blasio has laid out an outdoor dining plan saying eyeing the beginning of July.