April 14, 2021
(NEW YORK) – As a world renowned food capital, New York restaurants have felt the weight of the past year of lockdown. However, some have found this an opportunity to adapt and grow.
Here, we visit Japanese restaurant Raku, a local favorite. Originally founded in 2016, the small East Village udon shop quickly built up a fan following and hour long wait lists. The business had expanded to open a branch in SOHO and a new Toronto location when the lockdown hit hard.
Operations chef Morgan Chang points to the resiliency of the staff as something that that kept the team afloat.
“We had a lot of people working through the pandemic at different times, they were taking shifts on and off for each other. We had people who were incredibly open and willing to go on unemployment… we obviously had continued conversations with them, trying to make sure they were taken care of ok.”
Like many others, Raku had to face staff cuts and furloughs to survive. But the difficult business environment didn’t stop the restaurant community from coming together to give back.
In April last year, Raku paired up with Taiwanese restaurants 886 and Ho Foods to deliver thousands of bento box meals for hospital workers during the worst of the pandemic spike.
According to EaterNY.com, they were able to raise $28,000 to support the effort and delivered thousands of meals to over a dozen hospitals.
“Some of my friends are doctors and nurses in the city and they actually received food from us, which was a real bright spot on those dark peak COVID days.”
To survive, Raku developed a strategy of training staff who could seamlessly rotate between customer service and back kitchen positions. Keeping up team morale and culture was also key.
“Our team was so good with keeping each other going. Even when it was really slow, we were still making sure we were talking to each other, keeping each other going.”
Today Raku is back in full swing and hiring staff to keep up with demand as this spring sees New Yorkers returning to the sidewalks, where cafes and restaurants eagerly open doors to welcome them.