Like everyone in the restaurant industry, John Meadow, the owner of NoMad gem Scarpetta, has faced the toughest year of his career. Things are starting to perk up again with last month’s reopening of an outdoor garden spanning East 29th Street. He tells The Daily how they’ve survived, what’s new on the menu, and why New York City desperately needs indoor dining to return.
We’re happy you’re back in action. Tell us about the outside space.
We did a collaboration with Whispering Angel, the wonderful rosé. Elisabeth Santana from ES Blooms came in to design the space. There’s no Scarpetta outdoors [normally], so it was less about trying to bring the Scarpetta experience outside. We wanted to create something whimsical and feminine. No one is going to the South of France this summer, so let’s create this transportive, outdoor, playful garden space, and have fun with it.
How did it feel to finally reopen outdoors?
We did a family-and-friends gathering last month. A few days before, we brought our staff back for a socially distanced meeting in the ballroom of The James hotel with masks on. It was so touching to reconnect with this group of people. We didn’t have to hire one new person. Everyone who worked here before came back. There was a “we’re in this together” feeling that was great. Then the customers started coming, and there’s a lot of love and understanding.
How many seats are there outside?
For the past month, there were 72, and we just got approval to go farther into the street on the weekends. There’s no money to be made through this effort, but that’s not the point. The point is brand relevance, get the machine running, get our people working, and take care of our customers. It’s been a wonderful silver lining for this tough time.
Anything new on the menu?
We open at 4 p.m., which is early for us. We’ve added this whole aperitivo section. You order a cocktail and then you get these cute snacks, like a meat-and-cheese plate and marinated warm olives. They’re elevated bar snacks, but they’re totally different from Scarpetta. That’s every day from 4 to 5:30 p.m. We’re also doing our family meal, which is fried chicken. It’s gourmet comfort food. For drinks, we’ve got a frosé and a sgroppino with lemon sorbet, vodka, and prosecco.
Do you find yourself checking the weather a lot more to see if it’s going to rain?
We’re all meteorologists at this point! We’ve been playing the weather game for years for our location at Gurney’s in Montauk. Here, we’ve stayed open practically every single day. We have to put up these tents to stop the rain, but even if there’s sideways rain, New Yorkers are so great and want to stay in spite of crappy weather. They’re happy to be out!
You’re also delivering now.
The beauty of COVID is that all these things that you might want to fight [in the past], you have no choice now. You have to be malleable. We’re doing delivery, meal kits, and in-home catering. We’re bringing Scarpetta outside of the restaurant’s four walls, which don’t exist. I’m grateful for it. I think a lot of it is going to stick. We’re starting with [food delivery service] Goldbelly this month to ship the pasta all over the country. We’re able to cultivate relationships outside of the seven cities where we have Scarpetta locations. It’s different but a positive.
What’s in the meal kits?
There are different versions of it. I like the pasta party the most. It’s DIY, but it’s 75 percent done. We have our signature spaghetti, the sauce is all pre-done, plus ready-to-bake stromboli bread. There are different pasta options. For dessert, we have the espresso budino.
What’s Scarpetta at Home?
It’s new. We did a lot of dinners in the Hamptons and Westchester where we send a chef and a sommelier for a dinner party at a guest’s home. We cook in their kitchen. It’s a Scarpetta dinner party at home!
How have the past few months been for you?
We closed 26 restaurants and bars in mid-March across nine cities in three days. That was intense. Going through those logistics, you put your head down and do it. Then, we had to figure out what to do with the staff. Across the board, we have 1,300 people employed. We put forth a great effort to engage them. We have proudly carried everyone’s health coverage this whole time. Frankly, the government stimulus was meaningful to us at a corporate level and for the staff. The tough part was the pace. I thought it would be six months and done. Now, we are entering month #7. On the other hand, we have nine projects and design and construction over the world. I believe in our tomorrow. I believe in the resilience of New York City. We all have conviction for what we do. If you love New York and you love the restaurant business in this disaster, at least you know you chose the right path for yourself in life. I’m grateful to have that moment of self-reflection. A lot of our team feels the same. We’re here to ride it out. I hope we get back to somewhat normality sooner than later.
How are your other locations doing?
Our biggest markets are New York and Miami. Miami has been a roller coaster. It’s open and closed. We’re currently closed in five out of nine cities. We have reduced operations in four. The most robust market for us has been Scarpetta Beach in Montauk. There’s all this wonderful outside space that is traditionally used for banquets and weddings, but this year that’s not happening, so we were able to repurpose it for additional outdoor seating for Scarpetta Beach. That’s probably one of the busiest restaurants in the state through this process. That was a wonderful place to put good energy for us.
How will Scarpetta look when indoor dining returns?
We’ve already done the work. We’ve already installed these glass dividers throughout the space. If you recall, we were expected to have indoor dining on July 6th, so we had made our modifications to the space. Even with the outdoor patio, we have our Purell stations all over the place, and the servers are masked up with gloves. What I’m happy with is that it’s less physical and more about human behavior. I think people in New York have largely been compassionate. The customers have been respectful of the servers. It’s a tough role right now to be a server, where you have to serve hundreds of people a night that you don’t know.
Do you think the city took too long to make a decision about restoring indoor dining?
Emphatically, yes! I think it’s time. I don’t think it’s right that you can go across the street from Queens to Long Island and eat inside a restaurant. I don’t think that’s fair. Restaurants provide social connectivity. As a society and a community, we need that life. Hundreds of thousands of people are employed by restaurants in New York City. [Last week, Governor Cuomo announced that indoor dining can resume in NYC at 25 percent capacity on September 30th.]