By Christina Autry
Barbara Marquis has been the sole owner of a Spring Branch neighborhood classic, Fratelli Ristorante, for the past ten years. Under the expertise of Executive Chef Jakob Goree, this cozy Italian gem serves up classics such as lasagna Bolognese, veal in marsala wine sauce, pizzas, and popular seafood dishes including grilled salmon, pan seared redfish, or grilled shrimp over risotto.
Customers rave about the friendly service at Fratelli’s, and the quaint atmosphere the restaurant embodies, with rustic chandeliers and warm-colored murals imagining the restaurant in an Italian setting. Fratelli’s is the proud owner of the historic Shamrock Hilton bar, which was featured in the historic hotel during the 1940’s. Secluded rooms with wood-paneled doors provide diners with a more intimate space within the two dining rooms, while patio seating allows diners an outdoor experience.
With an established reputation in the community along with loyal customers, no one could have anticipated the challenges posed by the recent COVID-190 epidemic. Prior to the outbreak, private parties frequently rented the restaurant’s banquet hall, something simply not possible with the initial closure of all Harris County dining rooms, and the current social distancing protocols. Planned parties and events had to be canceled or postponed, with hopes of regrouping in a not-so-distant future.
Fratelli’s 80% drop in sales since the pandemic struck is due in part to the impossibility of hosting parties, the temporary ban on dining-in, and the continued wariness of customers to eat out, despite restrictions beginning to be lifted. Keeping their doors open during the six-and-a-half week period in which dining rooms were closed forced Fratelli’s to re-think their business model overnight to accommodate a takeout-only strategy.
Marquis began serving to-go orders curbside as well as utilizing Door Dash for customers wanting to order via a food delivery app. When Governor Abbott announced that restaurants would be allowed to open 25% starting on May 1st, Fratelli’s jumped on the opportunity to open their doors once more.
However, this decision was not as simple as returning to established business practices with less customers. Marquis describes the lengths that Fratellis has taken to in order to meet stringent health requirements to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
“We keep people separated when they walk in. We removed tables to ensure that they are spaced six feet away from each other. We have sanitizer stations, spray mist with alcohol that kills the virus, and we sanitize tables immediately when customers leave. We don’t leave anything reusable on the tables. Condiments are given upon request, and are sterilized once used. We wipe down the doors, clean the restrooms and kitchens regularly, and all of our staff wears masks.”
“We’re still doing to-go orders, curbside, and now allowing customers to dine-in for lunch and dinner,” says Marquis. “We’re busy on the weekends but slower during the week. However, we’re not in danger of closing. We’re making it by, and able to stay open.”
Marquis holds out hope that as restrictions continue to be lifted, and customers feel progressively more comfortable dining at restaurants, that they will be able to bring back the staff and employees whose jobs were unfortunately lost during this time.
“We all need to respect the rules,” says Marquis. “Otherwise we might have another spike, and have to close again,” she warns. This is a prospect that would be detrimental for small business owners across the board.
Fratelli’s works diligently every day to not only continue serving the food that customers expect, but uphold the highest level of cleanliness to make customers feel safe. Whether you’re craving your “neighborhood fine dining” experience within the Fratelli’s dining room, or in the comfort of your own home, be assured that every order is supporting this Spring Branch small business, and the families and individuals who keep it running.
1330 Wirt Rd
Houston, TX 77055