On Wednesday afternoon, you can hear the breaded chicken breasts frying in the kitchen of Ventura's, in east Utica. Sauce is simmering, and an aluminum foil tray of the finished product-chicken parm-is carried through the kitchen. In spite of the masks that now cover everyone's nose and mouth, the aroma is unmistakeable. Everything seems almost normal, until a few more steps reveal a dark, empty, dining room. For the owners, that loss has been every bit as devastating as the financial loss from the coronavirus.
"We had Easter pass that we're losing, we're losing mother's day and we've spent those holidays with the same families my whole life and to not be able to see them in your dining room and to experience their celebrations and their excitement and their families..it's hard," says manager, Nina Leist.
The coronavirus pandemic forced Ventura's, like all of their local counterparts, to convert to take-out only. While many to-go order forms hang in the kitchen, it's not the same. The restaurant is quiet. And the profit margin on the family meal deals the restaurant is offering...is miniscule. But profit wasn't the only thing the Ventura family had in mind, when they created them.
"We also wanted to make sure that people were able to still afford what they're used to. There's a lot of different situations going on in the community and the demographics, because people don't know what's going on with their jobs. Some people are furloughed and we feel that they should still be able to have the life that they had prior and if we have to take a loss on that, we will," said Leist.
Medical elective procedures served as the 'appetizer' on Tuesday, given first permission to resume, as early as next week, by Governor Cuomo. Now, other business owners wonder when it will be their turn. The Senate Republican conference wants the governor to share details of a reopening timeline next week, saying hopeless, laid-off New Yorkers are calling them, needing to go back to work and put food on the table. Oneida County Executive, Anthony Picente, warns: society's near-closing was staggered, and its reopening will be, too.
"This is not going back to the complete direct type of service everybody's used to. It's still gonna have different restrictions and provisions in place and protocols in doing that and limited number of people on an hourly basis or however it is," said Picente.
For now, Leist and the staff of Ventura's look forward to that first open weekend, and a very noisy dining room. And they are grateful that their business is where it is.
"If it wasn't for this community and where we are, I don't think that we would survive," says Leist. "Our patrons are like family and they have come out of the woodwork to support us."