BoomXYZ: cooks discuss customers and coronavirus

By Josh Ellerbrock -

LIMA — Restaurants have faced unprecedented challenges during the coronavirus pandemic as their customers adapt to new habits. But kitchen staffs are making it work.

“Our staff isn’t up to as many people as we had and up ‘til recently, I mean, we’ve been able to get through this pretty good. The week has been real strong,” Frank Guagenti, owner of the Milano Cafe, said.

To get some insights into how food industry workers have survived the last nine months, Boom XYZ invited a few local cooks to talk about customers’ ever-shifting expectations and how they’ve evolved to meet them.

Overall, the mainstays of a chef’s job — cooking and plating food — hasn’t changed all that much, but the larger ancillary challenges of running a restaurant certainly have.

Guagenti said it’s partially due to changing dining habits. Compared to prior decades, families and couples go out to eat at much higher rates than they used to, and they’ve gotten a little more savvy when it comes to food thanks to a large entertainment industry focused primarily on getting people excited about new things to eat.

Consequently, there are more critics than there used to be.

“I think it’s making customers more knowledgeable with products and how things are being prepared, but sometimes, I think it’s detrimental a little bit because people come in with an expectation of, ‘Oh, why I know you can just whip this up. It’s super easy,’” The Met’s executive chef, Lauren Bondrowski said.

The problem is, Bondrowski said, restaurants don’t exactly come with a grocery store in the basement. Menus are often carefully crafted, and a sandwich place isn’t necessarily going to be able to cook up a pasta dish on a moment’s notice.

When it comes to constructive criticism, however, cooks are usually pretty receptive. When Ryan Boughan, an Apollo Career Center student at the beginning of his culinary career, asked for some advice, the two cooks emphasized the need to take such instruction to heart in order to excel at the job.

As for the challenges of the last nine months, the biggest change for restaurant staffs has been trying to juggle a much higher demand for takeout with variable manpower.

“It’s sort of a guessing game to a point,” Guagenti said. “We’re filling the restaurant up, and then the phone is still ringing like crazy, too. So, the timing, you know, it’s a little bit of a struggle a few of those nights because it was like having a restaurant full and another restaurant full outside your front door.”

Restaurants too have had to vary their menus during the pandemic to keep customers interested.

“We got to figure out how to keep bring in customers, and we did tacos — Taco Tuesdays. The Met didn’t have any tacos before COVID and tacos are now our number one seller,” Bondrowski said.

To hear the complete conversation, the latest episode can be found at, or on popular podcast streaming services by searching “BoomXYZ.”

By Josh Ellerbrock

Reach Josh Ellerbrock at 567-242-0398.

Reach Josh Ellerbrock at 567-242-0398.

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