Milwaukee Magazine’s Editor and Publisher, Carole Nicksin, sat down for a livestream lunch on Friday with Paul Bartolotta, two-time James Beard award-winning chef and co-founder and owner of The Bartolotta Restaurants.
They talked about the impacts COVID-19 has had on restaurants and restaurant life, including Bartolotta’s own restaurants, along with what he will be preparing for Easter dinner.
Initially, when COVID-19 began to impact the country, Bartolotta pivoted his business to being curbside. However, not long after, he said he made the easiest hard decision of his life to close the business for the time being.
With deep ties to Italy, Bartolotta said, “By that point, my friends in Italy had told me the situation had gone from bad to nearly apocalyptic. I don’t want to be negative about it, but these are stories that you may or may not hear on the TV, but I have friends that are living it and it just made me go, not my family of employees. No way.”
“Here, we’re sort of a train going into this tunnel and I simply didn’t have any optics, any visibility, as to how long we would be in this tunnel and how bad it could potentially get,” said Bartolotta. “So, if I overreact, happy to be the guy that overreacted. My friends told me the reality of what this could be, so let’s not let this happen in our community.”
When it comes to how the pandemic will affect the dining experience when all this is said and done, Bartolotta predicts that at least initially, the dining experience will be different than what we were used to.
“I think it’s going to be different for a while. We may adjust our hours of operation and our days of operation to condense it. We may do slightly smaller menus as we ramp up,” says Bartolotta. “We may not open all of our restaurants the same day and stagger the openings so that we get some traction and we gauge how people are processing this new reopening.”
Bartolotta also talked about how he expects outdoor dining to open first, with indoor dining following in suit but with less seating that is distanced further apart.
“Each of them is going to be dependent on the moment that we start seeing the light at the end of the tunnel because right now we’re definitely in the tunnel,” says Bartolotta.
As for what will be found on the chef’s dinner table this Sunday, Bartolotta explains that his wife who is also a chef will be cooking. Complementing her cooking skills, he says, “She’s a way better cook than me.” The family will be having a slow-roasted leg of lamb, roasted potatoes, Roman-style artichokes and a simple pasta with grated pecorino cheese and pepper.