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May 20, 2020

Hartford’s V's Trattoria reopening amid struggle for survival

V’s Trattoria owner Rob Maffucci said he no longer uses food-delivery apps operated by large companies.

V's Trattoria on Trumbull Street will open its doors for outdoor dining today, but owner Rob Maffucci said serving a small fraction of customers the restaurant had before the pandemic won't do much for his bottom line.

"We're going to open, we're going to be in complete compliance," Maffucci said Tuesday evening. “But it's just crumbs, it's just going to be some crumbs for us to nibble on." 

Gov. Ned Lamont's May 20 reopening plan allows restaurants to serve food at tables set up on patios or sidewalks. He signed an executive order that empowers towns and cities to expedite zoning changes or ordinances for small businesses seeking to bring their operations outdoors. 

V's Trattoria has been making about 10% of its pre-COVID revenue by doing to-go orders since Lamont ordered restaurants closed for everything but takeout. Outdoor service will allow V's to serve a maximum of 20 people at a time. Maffucci thinks that's enough to make about $1,200 per day, approximately a 90% drop in revenue the restaurant makes on dine-in customers.

A staff of 10 -- rather than 24 in normal times -- will open V's today, Maffucci said. To operate under new hygiene measures at least one of those workers will focus on cleaning, a job that includes cleaning the bathroom after each use. In fact, Maffucci said, the amount of personal protective equipment (PPE) alone costs about $400 per week.

The long-term picture in Hartford's restaurant industry doesn't look pretty, Maffucci predicted, noting that federal aid -- which V's also received -- is artificially allowing restaurants to keep up with bills. When that money runs out in coming months, Maffucci thinks a significant number of restaurants will go out of business.

"I'm not worried about what's going to happen in the next two months, I'm worried about what's happening in the next six, nine, 12 months," Maffucci said. "After the subsidies wear off, we have to take a good hard look at the cost of doing business."

[Read more: Downtown Hartford businesses take cautious approach to May 20 reopening]

Connecticut Restaurant Association Executive Director Scott Dolch is also concerned about restaurants' revenue-generating capabilities under Lamont's plan, and last week wrote a letter to the governor signed by 130 hospitality industry business owners and trade associations asking his administration to allow restaurants to resume indoor service at 50% capacity beginning June 3, two weeks after they will be allowed to open for outdoor dining service.

While Maffucci is realistic about the uncertainty and likely painful nature of doing business over the next year, the longtime fixture in Hartford's restaurant sector said he'll do all he can to hang on.

"We're going to do our best to figure out how to survive, and hopefully we come out the other side," Maffucci said. "This is the test of survival."

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