Wake up and fight.
That has become the motto for Heights restaurant Mastrantos since local government officials placed social distancing restrictions on restaurants, making dining in unavailable.
During this uncertain time, small businesses everywhere are trying hard to continue striving forward despite restrictions, which are aimed at slowing the spread of COVID-19.
Luckily for the restaurant industry, when a stay-at-home, work safe order was issued Tuesday morning by Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo, restaurants kept the ability to conduct carryout, drive-through and delivery service. The order went into effect Wednesday and lasts through April 3.
“We remind ourselves that if we keep a smile on our face and bring positivity every day, we will make it through,” said Xavier Godoy, owner of Mastrantos. “Fortunately, the goal of Mastrantos has always been to provide a platform for every person we touch — employees, guest, suppliers, etc.— to become the best we can be tomorrow.”
As soon as the City of Houston mandated restaurants to stop dine-in service, Mastrantos’ strategy was simple: create a menu that was affordable, family-focused and made it easy to travel hot while maintaining quality.
Their idea was to create a “no brainer” option. For example, if a family of five needed dinner three times a week, instead of going to a fast-food chain, they could choose Mastrantos.
“Our Ragu Bolognese, which we typically sold at $18 per person during normal service, it has now been doubled in size and reduced to $16 per order, with enough for two people during this time,” Godoy said.
Mastrantos is working with a skeleton crew of Godoy, his wife and co-owner, Mari, chef Tony Castillo, one cook and two drivers for delivery that were previously servers.
“We’re trying our best to keep them busy,” Godoy said. “The more they have to do, the least they have to think. In this industry we are not used to be at home doing nothing. We’re a high-pace industry, so the busier we are the better we feel.”
With a small crew, there’s more than enough to do to keep everyone busy, which boosts their morale, according to Godoy. Some team members are even able to take this time and learn something new. Godoy said one server was able to learn how to bake, use a knife properly, use the dishwasher machine and make coffee with the espresso machine.
While the city practices social distancing and self-quarantining, being able to wake up each day and go to work has become a social outlet for the Mastrantos team.
“I won’t lie, the longer this goes, the easier it will be,” Godoy said. “It may become tougher physically, as we are here all day without stopping for a minute, but mentally it is the place where we have fun, where we share ideas, feelings, through jokes, help each other, in other words. It’s the only place right now where we can do what we do best as a society: be social.”
A way Mastrantos is helping to spread positivity beyond its own crew is through social media. Last week it posted an Instagram story of the crew singing and dancing to “I Will Survive” by Gloria Gaynor and encouraged other local restaurants to take part.
On top of that, the team posts daily videos updating customers while thanking them for their continued support.
Godoy said the Mastrantos team is also taking precautions to stay safe and reduce the risk of potentially spreading COVID-19, the upper-respiratory disease caused by the new strain of coronavirus. While Godoy said it’s almost impossible for the crew to keep 6 feet between them, he said there’s no direct contact between employees and anyone feeling a little under the weather is asked to stay home.
Mastrantos provides breakfast, lunch and dinner to those working each shift to reduce the consumption of food at their houses, therefore making it less likely for the team to need to go out to grocery stores to restock.
“We are using our supply chain to support our employees and prevent them from going to the stores,” Godoy said. “We create a list of items we need for our personal homes and buy all products from our distributors. This way we become the supermarket for all working at Mastrantos and therefore we don’t have to get exposed by going to stores with large gatherings.”
If social distancing is required for a longer time, Godoy said Mastrantos may also begin providing that option for the neighborhood.
Other precautions include sanitizing the restaurant 3-4 times a day, placing to-go orders at a table in front of the restaurant to make for an easy grab-and-go option for customers and taking most payments online or by phone, meaning there is little contact with credit cards, and gloves are used at all times. For deliveries, drivers call before arrival for guidance on how to drop off food.
“We just need to get through this together so we can go back to do what we do best, serve and take care of people through our amazing food and service,” Godoy said.