We talked to: Belly of the Beast

We talked to Belly of the Beast

We recently had a lovely conversation with Aimee Francaes and Jesse Hassinger of Belly of the Beast. Find out what they had to say about how things are going in Pandemic Times and what's coming up!

How are things going in these uncertain times?

Things are okay, considering the circumstances. That said, if we did not have the support of the community, we would definitely be in a more challenging space than we currently are, and would have to make a very tough choice about closing permanently. While we do have other friends with businesses who haven’t needed support, we know that most of our colleagues are in the same boat and dealing with the same things to a greater or lesser degree. After the iCollective, we decided to open on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays, concentrating on the days when people most want to order takeout, especially since we have limited staff at this point in time and want to keep everyone safe. Hopefully there is a light at the end of the tunnel. It’s a difficult moment for everyone--we’re just trying to make our own paths, and it’s unfortunate that there’s no real one way that everyone can get through this. Instead, everyone has to pivot and make their own alterations, as there is just no universal answer or single solution. But we are all in this together, through good times and bad as a community. I really think the restaurant industry in the Valley is incredibly supportive of one another. There are little hiccups every now and then, but for the most part everyone is super open to and in partnership with one another. At least that’s been our experience.

Do you think people generally feel safe coming into your space?

We aren’t doing that at this time, but once staff is vaccinated, we will look at how that might change things. For us, community in the forefront. My (Aimee) dream is to have indoor dining by August--that’s my hope--as it seems like sooner might not be feasible. As of right now, we are certainly not changing anything until the entire staff is vaccinated, and will continue to do curbside pickup, which has been working really well for the time being. If people want to place an order at the door, that’s fine. We just don’t know what it will look like by summer--might we want to do outdoor dining? It’s something to consider, but currently, we are taking it week by week and trying to figure things out. It’s not just what happens in the restaurant, but also in the area regarding the virus load. There are just so many variables, so it can be very difficult to figure things out--they are changing all the time, and we work hard to pivot in order to keep moving forward.

Are your customers adhering to the mask-wearing rule, or have you encountered some resistance?

It comes up now and then, but not as bad as it was in the summer--even doing curbside, it was more of an issue at that time. It still happens every so often, but we believe it’s more about people just being absent-minded. At least at this point, there’s knowledge and science regarding mask-wearing, and more people comprehend this and are being respectful and aware. Part of us choosing not to have people come in is because we haven’t wanted guests to have experience of coming in when we cannot all fully relax. It’s a huge part of hospitality to serve people when they can feel at ease and truly enjoy the experience of dining in while socializing with friends and family. I am also a mama bear about my staff, and it would be difficult to keep my cool if someone was disrespectful within the eatery. I do not want that--it’s safer and easier the way we have been handling things. Even for outdoor dining, it is the establishment's onus to remind people that they must be masked even if they are just sitting outside. I don’t want to put even more stress on my team by asking them to police patrons. So until things change and we feel comfortable and ready to offer outdoor and indoor dining, we will continue to do curbside/takeout.

What positive things have you learned during this crazy time, and do you have any goals for 2021?

The sense of community has been positively overwhelming. While our mission has always been connected to social justice and we’ve been moving along that path for many years, we have become much more radicalized in the past year regarding social justice around food and race and food sovereignty. I am incredibly grateful for that. I have really seen the value and purpose of an eatery in this community as two-pronged, and I am really proud of what we do and how we do it and feel that our efforts have been more validated in the past year. And yet honestly, if we ultimately have to close that will also be okay. Closing is not at the forefront of our minds, but it’s still a possibility because we just don’t know what the future holds right now. Even in “normal’ times, having a food establishment carries a level of uncertainty and stress, and there’s always the feeling that things could take a turn at any given moment. In some conversations I’ve (Jesse) had with colleagues, we get to a point after all the bemoaning and complaining, you have to grasp onto the golden ring that’s surrounding everything, and there’s a little bit of positivity there that keeps you going. We’ve all had to flex muscles we didn’t even know we had. Everyone had to hustle and constantly make changes, even within the first month. We reinvented ourselves at least three times this past year, and we feel that as we come out of this, we all have a newfound understanding of our resolve and the possibilities of what our businesses can change or morph into. On a personal level, that resilience factor is huge--that even goes for people who have made the decision to close. There’s just a level of understanding about when it’s time to move on and explore what is next.

Is there any other information you’d like to share about your business?

We are currently looking for a hands-on partner, as Jesse is going to be pursuing other things and we will need someone to work side-by-side Aimee at the eatery. This is an interesting and exciting next step. We are also looking forward to the different ways of rotating the menu, by keeping the things everyone loves plus adding seasonal items. We’ll be doing corned beef and sour cabbage and potato for St Patrick’s Day. It’s such a perfect winter-to-spring dish, and is truly special as most people are not corning their own beef at home. One very positive thing that has transpired in this time is getting to try out dishes we wouldn’t have been able to put on the menu. Because there are fewer sales, we can experiment a little more and not worry whether or not something will be a success because it’s a limited item. We don’t have to make a ton to cover costs and have enough for orders. If we or one of our team has always wanted to try something out, we’re up for experimenting. For example, Lissa came to us asking if we could put a mole pie on the menu, which consists of cornmeal crust with veggie mole or chicken mole. It’s a small pie that can feed two people, and was a really fun thing we might not normally have been able to do so easily. There’s room to dream and come up with other things, which is refreshing and keeps us thinking creatively.
We have been working very hard, so we are going to take a break at the end of March to regroup and rest up! We’ll be back at it in April, renewed and ready to serve the community once again.

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