Recipe for Recovery: Popular Center City restaurant recovers, rebuilds amid COVID-19

PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) -- This crisis has forced many small businesses to re-brand and reinvent themselves to stay alive.

That's the case for a popular Italian restaurant in Center City that knows a thing or two about rising from the ashes.

This is certainly not the first time Gran Caffe L'Aquila has been faced with crisis and devastation. It's not the first time they've been forced to start over.

That's exactly what they did this week, opening the doors for the first time in months with a new specialty shop and new offerings a rebirth they say feels like another grand re-opening.

"It feels like we're in a bad dream," says Riccardo Longo, a partner at Gran Caffe L'Aquila. "The one advantage we have is that we had been through this once before."

Eleven years ago, Gran Caffe L'Aquila in Italy's Abruzzo region crumbled in an earthquake.

On Christmas Eve 2014, they rebuilt here in Philadelphia, on Chestnut Street.

The original sign hangs as a symbol of hope and survival.

"When COVID hit, we said, okay, we've sort of been through this before, we know that we have to adapt and change," said Longo.
After being closed for more than three months, Gran Caffe L'Aquila just re-opened their doors on Monday.

They have outdoor dining, the full menu for takeout and a to-go cocktail program with a signature frozen delight.

"The Aperol Spritz is the official cocktail of Italy and granita is the true Italian water ice," said Longo.

Longo says they also launched a brand new market. "I think that sometimes when these things happen, you actually get amazing innovation because it forces you to innovate."

There's a wine shop with wines from all 20 regions of Italy. They have all kinds of artisanal imports like meats, cheeses, pasta, coffee, olive oil and honey.

"Of course our biggest hit so far has been my partner Stefano's gelato," said Longo. " He is the Italian gelato champion."

You can shop in-store or order from their new online marketplace. They also deliver with Mercato.

"I think it's going to allow us to hire back a lot of our employees and just sort of keep this business going," Longo said.

In less than a week, their new marketplace is proving to be a tremendously unexpected success. "Our new business is outpacing our traditional business," Longo added.

Even when the dining room reopens in the green phase, that market will stay.

Longo says that he's hopeful. Most of his neighbors on Chestnut Street are starting to remove the boards from their windows and they are re-joining him in reopening.
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