Italian To-Go

The owner of Zopita’s Kitchen on the Collierville Town Square, Anna Palazola, shares her restaurant’s experience adapting to the ever-changing environment affecting us all.

See the transcript below.

Nick Cotros: Hi everyone. My name is Nick Cotros and I’m here today with Anna Palazola, the owner of Zopita’s Kitchen on the Square in Collierville, Tennessee. And how are you doing today? 

Anna Palazola: I’m doing good. How are you?

NC: I’m good, I’m good. Thank you so much for joining us.

AP: Thank you for having me.

NC: And then the first thing will you tell our listeners about your restaurant, what you do on the Square? 

AP: Well, we are a business that makes everything at home. Everything that I serve in there is homemade. I make my own bread, I bake my own pasta. I do sandwiches. The whole idea at the beginning and my business model was to have trays to-go. Since we have a press and an open door, we know we decided to just have also lunch. So we serve lunch and we do sandwiches and salads and different pastas, which we tried to change. We always have lasagne and we are known for our chicken salad and then with also the trays to take home and finish baking at home in coffees and coffee and drinks, I guess that’s it.

NC: Okay, great. Yeah. And I know that a lot of people enjoy your dining space, that ended up becoming something.

AP: Yeah, we really put a lot of thoughts and with lot of research and we looked at a lot of ideas, and we came up with this and we were, father please, cause neither one of us, you know, have any experience in this. So this was all new to us when we opened the business.

NC: Right. And I guess the squares are pretty good spot for it.

AP: Yeah, it is. And the Square in our community, is really a very supportive community. They make sure that they support us and they make sure that they come by and, you know shop from us and eat with us. So we very, very blessed in that sense we have a very supportive community. We have in Collierville, many, many people that we would consider part of our family.

NC: Right. Yeah. Now you said you make a lot of different kinds of food, but you sort of lean Italian, right? 

AP: Right, right. Yeah, because that’s my background. So that’s what I grew up eating, I grew up eating pasta really three times a day. But that’s what I grew up, making pasta at home and making our own sauces. And even we used to make cheeses growing up, as life changed and it became more modern and things were more available, we started buying cheeses, but it used to be my family made the mozzarella. Now the parmesan, we still make today at home or in Italy. But, you know, I’m not really familiar. I’m from Minnesota. That’s a whole different story. So that’s what I grew up with, eating pasta and making pasta. So that’s my background.

NC: And so you do all the cooking? 

AP: I do all the cooking. Yeah. I enjoy it very much. It’s very hard for me cause you know, Charlie wants me to get so much to help me cook and it’s very difficult for me to hand that to somebody else cause I’ll really like my cooking and you know, like again, I’m not, I don’t know if I’m ready to let somebody else cook for me, for us. Hopefully eventually we will. Can, you know, somebody else have help me with this.

NC: So speaking of change, with everything that’s going on right now with the coronavirus, what steps have you and your restaurant taken to ensure that your restaurant and its services are clean and sanitary? Kind of just walk me through that process that you’ve had to go through.

AP: So, you know, we were the first, on the Square, the first one to stop serving food on in our dining room. The beginning of this mess. Early March, late February, we stop serving food in our dining room in trying to distance ourselves and the public and in one small thing, because we are a small space.

AP: Then the next thing we did, we were the first one to do this with curbside, we will not let anybody inside our stores. Studies started to come out and you know, they started learning more how this thing behaved. We know now that, okay, it’s present in the air, can travel in things and plastic and all that. Whenever we have anyway to deliver that, we kind of got afraid of anybody coming into our store. So we’ll now we go to a restaurant depot, we cleaned everything that goes into our car and we basically go from head to toe. Whatever we buy, we clean it up inside their store, right before it goes into our car. We sanitize it, clean everything before it’s even put inside our store. So it never goes into our store or cars without being cleaned.

AP: And we’ll do the curbside. In the way we do it, people pay over the phone and then once they get into our store, they open up their trunk or hatch with whatever car they have and we placed the food inside the trunk and then customers closes to the trunk or the hatch or whatever they have. So we minimize contact with people. We clean up everything at least every 20, 30 minutes. We have a clock that goes off. So we sanitize our tables, we sanitize our hands, we use gloves, to stop. At least we think we’re stopping this. We’re hoping because that’s, you know, when as many notes we really don’t know is a novel thing. So I don’t know a whole lot about it. We’ll try. We’re trying our best and so far so good.

NC: So what are you experiencing on the supply side of your business and industry? 

AP: I think people see things and they just buy everything. So the grocery stores are not able to keep up with the demand. Where, well, we have access to a bigger warehouse, and there may be something like pasta. Like the last time I couldn’t find any ziti and I don’t know why that was, but that happens every once in a while while they run out. I don’t think it has anything to do with what’s going on right now. In our end I don’t think we’re seeing that huge shortage. I think in our end we are, again, we have a bigger space. We go to a bigger warehouse and we have more availability, more space for the, for the store to have things in the shelf, whereas grocery store has, it’s more limited. So we’re not seeing that. We’re not seeing as of right now. I don’t know how it’s going to happen later on, but as of right now, we go to restaurant depot, they seem to be stocking well or they are well-stocked.

NC: Okay, that’s good. So you’re still able to source your items for the menu and you’re still able to produce the food. It’s just demand has taken a hit with what’s going on.

AP: There are certain things that you can’t find like cleaning stuff. Now we, we find bleach. Yeah. Yeah. Plenty bleach but like wipes and you know, those Clorox white pieces, brand Clorox and there was nothing out there. So we find all the other brands. To create our best interests in the sanitizing process.

NC: How are you balancing concerns about the virus with the economics of your business? 

AP: Well, let me tell you something. This has been something that we, we have wrestled with, keep our doors open or close. So this is something that we have wrestle with because we’re scared. I mean I think everybody is. So what we have done is we cut hours. So we only are there for like four hours a day. We used to work Monday through Saturday, now we are Monday through Friday. So in that, we probably are shortcoming ourselves, but on the other thing, we kind of minimized our time there too. That makes sense. It’s kind of hard. It’s very difficult right now. I mean people are kind of, they’re buying, but at the same time here, there’s the feeling that people want to keep in their house, but then again they’re afraid of what? Yeah. Now what’s next? What’s the next stage of this thing? Which will, nobody knows. This is all new. So that’s what we are.

NC: What are you hearing from people that are picking up food? Are you having any kind of dialogue with them? 

AP: Not at all. And that’s one of the things that I miss the most is my relationship with my customers is not there anymore. No. And you know, it’s always goes like, Hey, hello, how are you. We don’t have time to really talk anymore with anybody. There is seldom we get to talk. Just say more than a, how are you?, to anybody anymore because everybody’s either in a hurry or there’s another call coming in. So no longer that exists, so I really can’t say that I’m hearing anything.

NC: And your customers are probably trying to get the food and go.

AP: Yeah. Cause there’s no like when they open the trunk, if they have to get out of the car and open the trunk, they have to walk away because we have to keep that six foot limit, you know? Apart. But we no longer talk to anybody. So we really don’t know other than, I mean we can feel there’s a lot of scared people come with a mask and gloves and so there’s a lot of uncertainty for sure. Yeah.

NC: So speaking of your customers, how has the community and just everyone supported you during this time?

AP: Yeah, that’s huge, we really feel the support from the community. Yeah, absolutely. They make sure that they shop from us and you know, a lot of support from our community and it has been there from day one. It has been that way from day one, but even more so.

NC: And I thank you so much for your time today. We really appreciate it.

AP: Thank you, Nick. Thank you so much for reaching out. We really appreciate you and all that you do in our community. Thank you.

NC: Thank you so much, Anna. Thank you everyone.

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