Facing the unknown wasn’t new. That’s how it all began over thirty years ago. Some thought we were crazy to take such a risk by leaving a successful business in Tuscany to open a restaurant in Washington, DC. What did we know about operating an Italian restaurant in the United States? Turns out, very little, but sometimes in life you just have to take that leap into darkness. And so, here we were once more, last March, facing the unknown again.
There was little time to try to understand what was happening when the directive came to close the restaurant in the face of the spread of COVID-19. At the time we wanted to offer our customers a way to stay connected for a couple of weeks until this annoying and inconvenient little virus died out. Now, here we are, 55 weeks later, still working to maintain and nurture our community through our food. Though no one could have predicted the enormity of this pandemic, and maybe it was good that we didn’t realize it then, we were intent on offering stability and comfort in a time of fear and uncertainty. We wanted to replicate the i Ricchi dining experience at home by curating authentic Italian menus accompanied by entertaining stories in such a way that people could have the sensation of being part of a larger whole while isolating alone. The i Ricchi Food Club was born out of extreme necessity and has turned out to be the thing that has differentiated us and kept the restaurant alive. It has developed into the vehicle through which we have solidified our connection with customers while at the same time enlightening them about Italian food, culture, history and travel. The pandemic has reinforced the idea of a restaurant as center of the community.
Facing the unknown seems to be a reoccurring theme in the restaurant business and is more prevalent for women owners and co-owners. When Francesco and I divorced a few years after opening the restaurant, there was a real fear that this wife/partner could not sustain the business. I kept the news of the split as quiet as I could and took over the kitchen. It wasn’t easy dealing with the all-male staff and I had to continually prove myself. Customers and sale reps would ask to speak to “your father or your husband”, because I certainly could not be the decision maker.
Things have changed since then – more than half of the restaurants in the US have women as full or co-owners. With these growing numbers, there has been an effort to organize women led food businesses in the DC metro area, to create a forum to collaborate with and promote each other. Though this forum has been a resource for information and support during the pandemic, the fact remains that the city’s urban landscape has changed, and it will be a tough climb back to normalcy. Professional offices are still closed as are most of the hotels. Fly-in lobbying has ceased and there are no more conventions, conferences or tourists. Business is no longer conducted around DC tables, and downtown restaurants have become inconvenient destinations for locals residing and working from home in the suburbs. The locally owned small grocers and most retail shops are gone, so it will be up to small independent restaurants to retain the thread that keeps these once vibrant neighborhoods together and alive. Again we are facing the unknown, and will have to change to meet the demands of a new age business district. But as in the past, we will take a step forward with the firm belief that “failure is not an option.” For more information about and to order from i Ricchi, please visit http://iricchidc.com/
The time is now to help women owned restaurants and businesses as much as possible. You can do so through the RestaurantHER function on Grubhub, which allows you to find women owned restaurants nearest to your current location. Once you eat at these restaurants, you can share your experience through the Women Business Collaborative’s interactive survey to help these businesses gain exposure and traction.