'How lockdown transformed our business' - Italian restaurant's Covid success story

Verdi's in Clarence Park, St Albans.

Verdi's in Clarence Park, St Albans. - Credit: Archant

With the hospitality sector squeezed to the brink by the economic pressures of the pandemic, it's refreshing to hear about one business which has not only weathered the Covid storm, but positively thrived.

The Herts Ad spoke to Verdi's Italian restaurant owner Terry Di Francesco who set about making adaptations to his business model in order to meet the changing needs of the St Albans community. But has it worked? 

Verdi's, which celebrated its 30th birthday last year, has altered from its traditional restaurant approach to a more café drop-in style over the past four years, but it was lockdown which really shifted the dynamic of how they trade. 

The first major change came about when the establishment was given the go-ahead to sell takeaway alcohol in adjoining Clarence Park in July.  Customers were able to order draught lager, Aperol spritzers and Prosecco in plastic glasses with or without pasta and pizza.

In good weather the park was packed with picnicking households enjoying the festival-style atmosphere. Then it was stopped.

Terry said: "All this changed literally overnight when we told to close because of the national lockdown. Faced with absolutely nothing and no means of even beginning to guess what was coming next, we initially sold the produce we had in stock that would otherwise have gone to waste." 

The restaurant set up outside in the park and soon found that there was also a huge demand for basics such as bread, flour and milk and started ordering more in just to keep local residents stocked up.

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Further items such as fresh vegetables and fruit, cheese, butter, yogurt, yeast for bread making, pizza dough and various dry goods such as oil, pasta, biscuits, cereals were added to the available takeaway menu.

Terry explained that this adaptation to their service saved people extra visits to the supermarket during the height of the pandemic. Orders came in for home deliveries for fresh fruit and vegetables from regular customers who were either house-bound or isolating.

He said: "All of this meant we engaged far more with our customers than we had before and also our business benefitted from people coming to the park as it became part of their daily routine.

"For some, we were the only people who they were able to speak to or see in their daily exercise allowance and we saw this quite definitively as being vital to the local community.

"This has probably been the most positive aspect of the lockdown - we have become much more a part of the park and involved with the people who visit - they are not just customers, we have shared their lives during that period and our staff have become their friends."

Verdis in Clarence Park is selling fresh produce during the pandemic.

Verdis in Clarence Park is selling fresh produce during the pandemic. - Credit: Archant

He said that after many people discovered Clarence Park for the first time they continued during last summer and they are seeing them returning again this year: "We see many more families than we used to. The free deckchairs we provide have proved hugely popular - and the park looks amazing with the coloured chairs scattered about on the grass as far as the eye can see.

"It seems like a lifetime ago now and looking back the initial lockdown was incredibly stressful as apart from the worry of keeping healthy and safe, we had no way of knowing when we would ever be able to reopen.

"Once we saw that we were able to work with the situation and that there was a good response to what we were doing, we threw our energy into the new way of trading."

Currently, Verdi's is in the process of arranging Jazz in the Park this summer between May and the end of September. Permission has been granted for the following dates: May 30, June 27, July 25, August 29 and September 26.

Additional deckchairs, free picnic tables and new items on their menu are available for easy park-side eating, and UK-sourced lobster and crab are now on the menu as well as venison burgers.

For more information visit www.verdis-stalbans.net