Chef Ryan DePersio has always been an optimist. “I’m not a glass half full guy, I’m not a glass is full guy,” he says. “I’m a glass brimming over the top guy.”
Whatever the spillage might be, that formula has worked well for DePersio. His first restaurant, Fascino, a BYO in Montclair, is still going strong at 17. His stable includes Battello, a restaurant and event space on the Jersey City waterfront; Kitchen Step, a neighborhood bistro in Jersey City; and the Brielle River House, an event space on the Manasquan River in that Monmouth County town.
What DePersio is optimistic about right now is the outlook for his restaurants, and others as well, whenever they are finally allowed to seat customers again. (For the record, he has no idea when that might be. “I’ve heard two weeks, July 1, everything’s a rumor.”)
The consensus in the industry is that, when restaurants reopen, tables will be spaced at least six feet apart, cutting seating capacity in half. Absent price increases, which the public might well resist, that cuts revenue in half, assuming people feel comfortable sitting down in a restaurant again in some proximity to strangers. With rent and other operating costs possibly unchanged, reopening has struck many restaurateurs as anything but a slam dunk.
But as DePersio sees it, “People will go out on Friday and Saturday nights, and since there will be fewer seats, those nights are going to be booked solid. So I think people will go out more often during the week. Weeknight business could actually be better than it was before the pandemic.”
Does he think there will be pent-up demand, or will people be leery?
“Both, depending on what their experience was in the pandemic. If they had a loss in family, they’ll be leery, and I respect that. But there’s definitely people I’ve spoken to who want restaurants to open up, and there will be people who will be scared. We have to be sensitive to both sides. And that’s why we’ll continue to offer takeout and catering, or a fun night with a Zoom class.
“Next Saturday, May 30, we’re doing a ‘Date Night with Battello and Chef RD.’ It’s $80 per person for two courses—one cold, one hot—including a bottle of Battello Cabernet. You pick up the ingredients at Battello, everything is prepped for you, so it’s almost like a Blue Apron. (A second dinner has been added on May 31 at 6 pm.)
“Then at 7 o’clock you go on the Zoom call and see me in my kitchen at home. You get a cooking lesson, a meal you cook yourself, and the wine.”