Sicily’s Pizzeria in Detroit Relies on Neighborhood Support to Weather the Pandemic
Sicily’s Pizzeria & Subs, a popular restaurant in the West Vernor neighborhood in southwest Detroit, has been slowly expanding a dining room for a little over a year. The 30-year-old take-out and delivery-only spot hoped to expand its presence in the community by offering casual dining options with around 40 indoor seats.
But while the building has continued to change amid the troubles of the pandemic, Sicily owner Ali Beydoun is in no hurry to open up. “We didn’t want to open under the current circumstances because we don’t want to burden our, our payroll or our overhead with a new start-up,” he says. “We don’t want to do anything to endanger our community, our employees, our health or the health of our neighbors.”
“If you close in this type of economy, you may lose your place on the table.”
While keeping dining rooms closed can be disastrous for some restaurants, Beydoun has reasons to be cautiously optimistic about Sicily’s future. Pizza, and established carryouts in general, were a ray of hope in the culinary landscape of the pandemic. When people retired to their homes in the spring of 2020, they often had the number of their favorite pizzeria ready.
Thanks to an ordering app and an in-house delivery service, Sicily was particularly prepared for durability. “That really helped us [with] our numbers, ”he says. “Our sales supported most of our employees.” Despite these operations, Beydoun said the restaurant was very thin at times, and he occasionally delivered himself.
Beydoun owes the restaurant’s success to strong community loyalty and a mix of grants, Federal Paycheck Protection Program loans, and other forms of small business financial support. “Our residential neighbors have phenomenally supported us and our local construction teams,” he says, adding that he also owns the building and doesn’t have to worry about rental negotiations. “All of these things came together to help us survive this wild storm,” Beydoun says.
Still, the COVID-19 crisis hit Sicily hard. While dinner sales have remained strong and stable over the past 10 months, lunch service has suffered from the closure of offices in and around the downtown core. Beydoun estimates that the lunch service was doing around 40 percent of its pre-COVID business in the fall of 2020. However, Beydoun continues to strive to offer a lunch service. He opens the restaurant at 10 a.m. every day. “We decided to just go ahead and stick with these hours,” he says. “If you close in this type of economy, you may lose your place on the table.”
Beydoun is also concerned about the wider impact of COVID-19 on the restaurant industry, particularly in Detroit, where food and drink have become an oversized part of the city’s identity. “Before the pandemic, this was a really thriving field for small restaurants,” he says. “Everyone knows that small businesses, and then consumers, always lag behind in these cases, and large businesses get the most benefits. We hope our industry gets the help it deserves. We employ millions of people in this country. “
Beydoun looks ahead to a new year with vaccine distribution ongoing and sees light at the end of the tunnel. “We’re pushing very aggressively and finishing our construction because I’m sure – and hope – that it will look a lot better by the summer.”
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