The COVID-19 pandemic has been hard on the restaurant industry, especially local mom-and-pop restaurants in Cave Creek and Carefree. These local restaurants have needed to adapt to change to be able to survive. Two local restaurants, Giordano’s Trattoria Romana and Harold’s Cave Creek Corral, have done just that.
Giordano’s Trattoria Romana
For Giordano’s Trattoria Romana, surviving during COVID-19 has meant serving customers in different ways, depending on COVID-19 regulations and guidelines.
When restaurants were closed for in-house dining from March to May, Giordano’s offered curbside pickup for its customers. It is known for its veal dishes like ossobuco Milanese and house specialties such as eggplant parmigiana and pollo fricassee.
Owner Adele Giordano said that throughout this year, local customers have helped her restaurant survive.
“I have to say the people in Carefree, my regular customers, were so completely supportive. They were determined that they didn’t want to lose us. We were pretty busy with takeout, and I was able to get the bills paid and pay my staff,” Giordano said.
The restaurant reopened for in-house dining in May. Giordano said customers were hesitant to come back at first but soon started to show.
Her restaurant has closely followed CDC guidelines related to social distancing, including positioning tables 6 feet apart, changing to paper menus, requiring masks for staff, ensuring diners wear masks when first entering the facility, offering patio and indoor seating and not allowing groups of more than 10 to sit together.
“That’s a little new, when you have friends and family wanting to sit together and they really can’t. I go out of my way to follow the guidelines because I don’t want to have any repercussions,” Giordano said.
“I strictly follow social distancing in seating of the tables.”
Before reopening in May, the staff rearranged tables and removed bar seating.
Giordano said the safety measures have helped diners to feel secure to dine at the restaurant.
“As time went on, people started to really trust us and know they could come and feel safe,” Giordano said.
Giordano said that while most customers have been understanding, some have had trouble adjusting to the new protocols.
“Sometimes people will come in and they will see an empty table and they wouldn’t get that I can’t seat them there because there is someone else that is too close. Sometimes they are not very happy with that, or they don’t like having to wait. Unfortunately, it’s not my law. I’m just following the guidelines,” Giordano said.
Along with her duties as owner, Giordano also acts as a server in her restaurant. Her full-time staff has been with her for a number of years. Her chefs are known for their sauces and ability to cook food in a consistent manner.
“You can order something now and come back next year and it would taste the same,” Giordano said.
She has avoided laying off employees during the pandemic.
“I’ve been able to maintain my staff, which is really important to me,” Giordano said.
Giordano said some days can be more difficult than others, but she has just been pressing on, day by day.
“As frustrating as it is having to wear a mask for five hours, six hours and be really uncomfortable, you have to do it. You just have to be persistent and pray that it passes us and we’ll be done with it relatively soon,” Giordano said.
Giordano said it hasn’t been easy running a business during COVID-19, but she and her staff are doing everything they can to make sure the restaurant continues on for years to come.
“We are just getting the job done and surviving as best as we can,” Giordano said.
Giordano’s Trattoria Romana
7275 E. Easy Street, Carefree
Harold’s Cave Creek Corral
Harold’s Cave Creek Corral has a long history in the Cave Creek area that dates back to the 1930s. The jubilant hotspot has been able to endure this year, despite pandemic challenges.
The restaurant has had to shut down and offer only to-go orders twice this year. It just reopened for in-house dining in August.
Harold’s offers a wide array of different comfort foods, including spaghetti, fried chicken, tacos, chicken Parmesan, burgers and sandwiches.
Co-owner Danny Piacquadio said a small bit of his business comes from takeout orders. Carry-out, however, did increase during the shutdown. Many locals ordered family meals, which come with multiple servings and sides.
“That was generated to help feed the families in the school district but also to give people an option who wanted to enjoy Harold’s food as a family, to give them a discounted version. It actually worked out really well for us, and we continue to sell those to go,” Piacquadio said.
Although Harold’s menu didn’t change, it was limited for a time to prevent wasting food. The restaurant has been able to go back to its full menu since reopening.
Piacquadio’s father purchased Harold’s in 1987. He started working at the restaurant after college and now co-owns it with his wife and Bill and Marie Vale.
He has always found Cave Creek to be supportive—especially during COVID-19.
“I think Cave Creek is a great community. Harold’s is known for being one of the hallmarks of Cave Creek. We had great community representation from our regulars, from the families in the school district appreciating the stuff we have done in years past. They wanted to try to reciprocate and help us back, especially when we were closed,” Piacquadio said.
Over a four-month period, the restaurant had to downsize, laying off over 90 people. Most of the staff were able to return when it reopened.
“We were blessed to get 80% to 90% of our staff back. We are very appreciative of that. We are keeping up all of the protocols and safety checks so that we can stay open and keep our employees and customers safe,” Piacquadio said.
Piacquadio said it was challenging to have to lay off so many staff members.
“The majority of them didn’t have anywhere to go, and they lost that income. Granted, we did have unemployment benefits provided, but it’s still not enough to live off. That was the toughest part,” Piacquadio said.
Harold’s received relief in the form of small-business PPP funding through the stimulus package.
Even during times when it was closed for dine-in, the restaurant tried to give back by donating food to local school districts and food banks.
Known for its live music offerings, Harold’s pivoted its entertainment lineup. Instead of raucous, plugged-in sets, musicians perform acoustically and as duos from Thursdays to Sundays.
“During the pandemic, musicians were hit as hard as anybody. To have full bands at 50% (capacity) doesn’t really make sense for us,” he said.
“Our philosophy is you have to coexist with the virus because it’s not going anywhere. As long as you do it safely and responsibly, it makes sense to try to get back to as normal as we can as a society. So, if we have one acoustic guy or a duo play, it helps those musicians that have been part of Harold’s success to keep working.”
Although business has been steady since reopening, he expects to see fewer customers than normal during the fall and spring, which are generally busier times of the year for Harold’s. COVID-19 numbers have been rising.
“We are blessed because we have a great support system with the community and our regulars but have no doubt that this is a challenging time for all restaurants,” Piacquadio said.
From the beginning, Harold’s made sure to abide by CDC safety protocols, including spacing tables 6 feet apart, adopting additional sanitation measures, requiring masks upon entry and when not seated, operating at 50% capacity and making sure employees are tested for COVID-19.
“We’ve always done everything by the guidelines, for our customers and our employees, and we haven’t had any outbreaks at our restaurant,” Piacquadio said.
The restaurant already had an outdoor patio and tall ceilings, but the staff did need to rearrange the space. For excess chairs and tables, the owners rented a trailer.
Piacquadio said restaurants like Harold’s were already used to following food safety guidelines, so they were able to adapt quickly to COVID-19 guidelines early on in the process.
“I know people are fearful of going out, but we feel we are just as safe, if not safer, than going to the grocery store,” Piacquadio said. “We are going above and beyond the recommendations of the CDC to provide a safe experience, to get people out of the house and get back to some sort of normal lifestyle.”
Harold’s Cave Creek Corral
6895 E. Cave Creek Road, Cave Creek