Karim is the owner of Raoul's Restaurant in Soho, which was founded over 40 years ago by his father and uncle who journeyed from Alsace, France, to Soho, New York. It is one of the few remaining spots in New York City that has preserved its authenticity and charisma.
How has the pandemic affected you professionally?
The restaurant had to close, but we are lucky we are able to keep the lights on for now. This has really been the hardest for the employees. Unfortunately, the CARES Act package is no real help for businesses like ours - it's more for larger chains. We set up a Go Fund Me page to support our team. Hopefully, that will help.
The obvious X factor is not knowing how long will this last, and when it's all over, it's going to be a slow process back to normal. We will probably have to decrease the capacity like we were doing the weeks before the total shutdown, which is not sustainable.
I'm lucky to have experienced Raoul's through different eras and economic hardships, because I'm able to reference those times as different business models. I would imagine that when we open back up, it will be similar to the 1975 model when my uncle was in the kitchen, my father was at the bar, and there was only one waitress. That's how I'm looking at it. I can just continue down the pipeline of decades: in 1985, there were a couple of more people, and by the 90's, we had a full staff.
How have you been affected personally?
It's a major change. I've never really known life without the restaurant. It's a weird experiment to see what it would be like if we ever sold Raoul's (not that I'm planning on it). There's a certain amount of stress relief that I get not having to deal with the day-to-day stresses of the restaurant, but it’s been replaced with another type of stress, which is the unknown weirdness. It's a very bizarre time, and it's an even weirder time to have a baby. Our newest, Rev, was born on the 26th.
"I think people will be wanting a Cheers sort of feel to going out. They're going to want to know they can find their friends and family in those places"
How do you think it will impact the future of your industry?
You will probably have about 50% less competition then you have before, and I don't think people are going to want super high end or new places - I think people will be wanting a Cheers sort of feel to going out. They're going to want to know they can find their friends and family in those places. It could be ironic that an industry like the restaurant industry, which is getting hit so hard, might also be the cure for people's depression.
How are you adapting to the changes?
I think along with this will be a major recession or depression. Money is definitely going to be a factor. Menu pricing will be affected, which affects the type of menu you can put together. I think people will be looking for the type of food that we serve, but in a simpler sense. It'll be more like the 1975 model again, which is going back to basics with peasant dishes like boeuf bourguignon - things that can be prepared during the day and served at night without ten people on the prep line.
People are not going to want to be crammed together, which will also be a factor. Until we are willing to come into a room and eat with each other, we will have to have alternatives. We are working on creating meal kits that people can prepare at home. We still want to be involved in our customers’ lives, and this felt a little more on brand than just delivery. We will just have to keep our options open for a while until things sort out with a vaccine.
"When you've got your head down and you're crazy busy, you don't really think of anything other than what's two feet in front of your face. It's a great time for introspection to figure out what you really care about."
If you had to identify a silver lining out of this, what would it be?
When I was quarantined, I felt like I was in my life waiting alone for some sort of solution...just thinking about what's important to me. What do I want to be doing? When you've got your head down and you're crazy busy, you don't really think of anything other than what's two feet in front of your face. It's a great time for introspection to figure out what you really care about.
And as far as the business part, I think that it'll be a great time to expose the things that aren't working. Maybe we should have universal healthcare. Maybe we should have a more socialist unemployment system. We may find that some of these policies being used as temporary support are something our society needs.