‘Stay the course’ - Keeping the faith, keeping a restaurant, and helping employees amid coronavirus

The patio at Favazzas restaurant Courtesy photo The patio at Favazza's Restaurant. Courtesy photo.

Favazza's Restaurant has been an institution in St. Louis for over four decades. It's located on The Hill, an Italian neighborhood well-known for its cuisine.

Now, with fears of coronavirus shuttering restaurants throughout the country, Favazza's owner, a Catholic family man, is trying to keep his restaurant afloat, while at the same time trying to take care of laid-off employees as well as he can.

"I couldn't do this if it goes three or four months. I'll probably have to close or something," owner Tony Favazza told CNA.

"Good thing I own the building, I have a good reputation- I've been here 45 years, and we've saved our money over the years. But we couldn't do this for a long time...We have business interruption insurance, but it does not qualify for this pandemic, evidently."

St. Louis Mayor Lyda Krewson ordered restaurants across the city to close their seating areas March 19, in favor of delivery, window, walk-up or drive-thru service. No date has yet been given for when the provision could be lifted.

Favazza has had to lay off almost 50 people, but has been able to help many of them get set up for unemployment, showing them how to fill out complicated government forms.

The restaurant now is open only for carry-out and curbside delivery, with only about 10 employees left. They've cut down hours, and are "operating on minimum," Favazza said. Favazza is paying one of his remaining employees, who has worked at Favazza's for 40 years, a full salary.

"I don't know how long that's going to last, and he told me 'whatever you need to do,' but I told him I'd pay him, and his insurance. He's 62 years old, and I'm just trying to help him through this," he said.

A couple of restaurants in the area have closed completely, Favazza said. His wife was diagnosed with myeloma a month ago.

Still, he and his family are doing their best to keep the faith during this trying time.

Favazza had been going to Mass for a long time every morning at 6:30, and though public Masses are suspended in the St. Louis archdiocese, the church has remained open from 6:30 am to 3:00 pm.

"So there's about 10 of us, every morning we meet and do the readings, and we do the rosary, and the pope's novena for the virus," he said.

"We're just trying to do all we can. Take care of your neighbors and just be more civilized...if you have faith, just stay the course."

Favazza's regular customers have been doing their best to help the business.

"Even last week, we had people in the area calling us, buying gift certificates, saying 'What can we do?'" Favazza said.

"One lady had a party that she had canceled- it was supposed to be last weekend- and she came by and paid the $300 deposit, because she's going to do it in July now. She said, 'I figured you'd need the money now.' So she pre-paid for the party."

Favazza said he always gives law enforcement a 50% discount at his restaurant. This week, two policemen came to get food at the restaurant, and placed a large order.

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"My brother went out to tell them they got half off, and the cops said: 'No no, we're here to support you,'" Favazza said. "So that was very nice."

Kim Peters, who has worked at the restaurant for nearly 18 years, is confident that the restaurant will reopen, even though the feeling of not going to work every day makes her feel a little anxious.

"Favazza's has been around a long time, and they'll be opening back up," she told CNA. "I have no doubt about it."

As a hostess, her job has been rendered non-essential since the restaurant is only taking take-out and curbside orders. Her last day was Thursday, but hopes that she will soon be rehired at Favazza's.

"We've got a lot of employees that have been there for many, many years, and even people that did different jobs and come back to fill in here and there. They're just a wonderful family to work for," she said of the Favazzas.

"They're just more concerned about their employees than they are about themselves...they're well established, they're taking a crunch like everybody else, but they're going to be ok. They're a very strong, Catholic, close-knit family, and they're going to be fine even though they'll feel a crunch."

Jimmy Naucke normally works as the head maintenance man at Favazza's, and picks up the alcohol that the restaurant sells. But they're not selling any beer, wine, or liquor at the moment, and multiple parties have been canceled.

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Still, he said, Tony's first priority has been his employees.

"Those of us that work at Favazza's- Tony always looks at us and just does everything he can above and beyond what most bosses do," Naucke told CNA.

"He's keeping people working, but since you can't serve food at the tables, there goes the bussers, and all the waiters, and everything," he said.

"He's trying to do what he can, but with a lot of this stuff, his hands are tied."

Naucke, who has been working at Favazza's for 20 years, encouraged people to support small businesses during this time.

"There are a lot of people, in a lot of trades, that aren't working at all," he said.

"There's a lot of restaurants on the Hill that are completely closed. Nobody's working."