VIENNA: Paul Ivic, executive chef of one of the only Michelin star vegetarian restaurants in the world is relieved that the restaurant reopening has been smoother than he expected.
The chef of Tian and Tian Bistro in Vienna and Tian in Munich reopened the fine dining restaurant on May 15 so he can reflect and look back on the ups and downs of reopening after COVID-19 forced the lockdown of thousands of restaurants around the world.
The restaurant reopened on May 15 and Paul’s experience provides a glimpse of what other restaurants are bound to expect in the next days and weeks as more and more restaurants reopen for business across Europe.
In an interview with Food and Wine Gazette, Paul Ivic spoke of the first night of the reopening. “One hour before service, I was not feeling well. It was like I had lost my motivation and did not have a good feeling or vibe. I was a bit depressed but as soon as we finished the staff meeting and I saw the team motivated I immediately felt better. Once the service got going, it was like we had never stopped. I immediately remembered why we do what we do,” he said.
The Croatian-Austrian chef who has been cooking with vegetables over the past years and has made a name for himself for his unique way of handling vegetables said that for the time being the restaurant is open for only three times a week. “It is still a big challenge though I am really satisfied with the customer response so far,” he said.
Paul said he was surprised and very happy that customers have been really open minded and happy to return to restaurants. “We left it open to guests whether they wanted a long or short explanation of the dishes knowing that not everyone might be comfortable with having long contact with the staff. We found that people still wanted to have the same experience as before,” he said.
The Austrian chef said he was open for three times a week for the time being until the economy gets better. The other reason is this also allows them to get financial support from the Austrian government. If he increases the number of days, he loses that support which can make or break the restaurant. “It is all about maths for the moment,” he said.
That means that at the moment the restaurant has between 20 to 50% less customers in a week but nothing has changed inside the fine-dining restaurant except for staff wearing masks.
The first few weeks of the lockdown were tough as he is CEO of three restaurants and his focus was on keeping all the restaurants alive. “I was not able to relax in the first two weeks. We had a really good business and I wanted to retain all my staff. I gave myself six weeks to restart the business.”
The biggest challenge, like many other chefs across the world, was not knowing how long the restaurant would be closed. “We were told it would be for two weeks, another two weeks were added followed by two more weeks,” he said. “We could not take any decisions and that was why we came up with the idea of creating a take-away. But this was also not possible at first.”
Staff worked 10 per cent of the time which was what was allowed for them to get support from the government. “We finally came up with the Tian at Home boxes which brought a mixture of dishes from the restaurant and the bistro to people’s home. We delivered three courses with written instructions for guests to finish off the dishes at home. They would send us pictures of the dishes which was really great.”
Paul told Food and Wine Gazette that he will not continue the Tian at Home concept for the time being at least because most of the customers for the boxes were the same who returned first to the restaurant. who were the first to visit the restaurant. “However, we have been asked to provide such boxes for corporate events and this is something that we are definitely going to consider.”
Find out more in our full interview with Paul Ivic on Food and Wine Gazette next week.