Philly's Comeback: Nemi Restaurant bouncing back after tough year

PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) -- It's the smells and sounds of Mexico in the kitchen of Nemi Restaurant in Philadelphia's Port Richmond section.

Chef and co-owner Jesus Garcia draws on his experiences.

"A lot of these dishes remind me of my childhood," he says.

The staff has been working seven days a week. At the height of the pandemic, times were lean. Some months brought in only 30% of normal business income. Survival was the only option, and pivoting was a must.

Chef Garcia first introduced Action News to a popular appetizer, salmon ceviche. The thinly sliced salmon is topped with the spice of a serrano pepper and has the sweetness of mango sauce. It draws inspiration from a popular candy back home in Mexico.

"It was like a mango, spicy mango lollipop and I always had it in my head. It was one of my favorites," said Garcia.

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The tender meat in the duck confit dish is packed with flavor. It takes time to make it just right.

"It takes 6 to 7 days," said Garcia.

While the food and drinks are fabulous, keeping the lights on during the pandemic has been a struggle.

"Unfortunately we had to let some people go," said Alejandro Fuentes, who is the co-owner of Nemi, which lost 70% of its business in March 2020.

Pivoting to to-go food and drinks was a must, even driving their own cars when necessary.

"We ended up doing deliveries. Something we didn't have before. We end up doing it ourselves," said Fuentes.

Securing permits and building an outdoor dining space bumped sales from 30% to 60%. Now, the relaxing of restrictions on indoor capacity has diners returning.

"They have gotten their first or second shot and they come to celebrate. I can see sales definitely moving on the positive side," says Fuentes.

Nemi is currently operating at about 70% pre-pandemic income.

From the initial two weeks of pandemic lockdowns to surviving 13 months, each day has been a fight.

"I think if they told us it was going to be a whole year I don't know what I would have done," said Fuentes.

What has kept them going is the love behind each meal and the recollection of home.

"Memories, we've been here for a while. You have a lot of memories from back home so you try to bring it out through the dishes," said Chef Garcia.
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