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Episode 24: Deck the Halls

With the holiday season upon us, Brady and Alvin look at how gatherings at restaurants will be different this year and discuss their favorite seasonal foods and beverages. They also look ahead with tips for avoiding a broken heart on Valentine’s Day and explore the ups and downs of Yelp.




Episode Transcript

December 15, 2020


Brady Viccellio

If you've ever wondered about what goes on behind the scenes at restaurants, then you're in the right place. This podcast takes you inside the minds of restaurant owners, chefs, bartenders, servers, basically anyone who has anything to do with food, drink or hospitality. I'm Brady Viccellio, owner of Steinhilber’s restaurant, and La Bella Italia on Laskin Road in Virginia Beach. Welcome to The Check podcast.


Alvin Williams

And I'm Alvin Williams, cohost of the check and owner of Cobalt Grille restaurant at hilltop in Virginia Beach. Welcome to our podcast, we'll be talking about restaurants, people who work in restaurants who own restaurants and people who like to dine in restaurants.


Brady Viccellio

And here we are in the holiday season.


Alvin Williams

December. We've made it. We made it to December.


Brady Viccellio

Yeah. Well, I mean, some days it seems like, like it was yesterday that this pandemic and even this year started and sometimes it seems like it was a decade ago.


Alvin Williams

Yeah. Or at least at least nine months.


Brady Viccellio

Yeah. I don't know about you, but I I lose track of time. I have a conversation with somebody. And then I'll see him and I said, you know, remember, we had that conversation? And I think that we had the conversation three months ago, and they said, Well, that was three days ago. Or vice versa. I think we had the conversation three days ago when it was really three months ago.


Alvin Williams

Yeah, that's just old age setting in, Brady.


Brady Viccellio

Is it old age? Or is it Groundhog Day?


Alvin Williams

Could be that, except the decorations are different. So you know before we will have seen pumpkins outside and then now I'm seeing Christmas lights going up.


Brady Viccellio

Oh, that's true. But we had a whole summer without really decorations anywhere. I mean, it was there's no pumpkins or Christmas trees or turkeys or whatever.


Alvin Williams

I had a whole summer without going to the beach. I kind of I can't believe that.


Brady Viccellio

Did you get to the beach? Now what I usually I don't I'm not really a beach guy. Yeah, maybe once or twice a year, but


Alvin Williams

We'll do it just to do it sometimes. And you know, maybe have a drink on the beach or something but didn't even make it this year.


Brady Viccellio

What are your Christmas plans?


Alvin Williams

I plan to sit at home on my couch and get fat.


Brady Viccellio

I mean, professionally?


Alvin Williams

Oh. I don't know. It's very up in the air. At this point in the year, normally, we would know how many parties we're going to have and how busy we're going to be and make plans like that. But this year, all our large parties have canceled.


Brady Viccellio

I want to come back to that. But let's talk about you're going to do that to go and you're going to do in house dining on Christmas Eve.


Alvin Williams

Generally Christmas day we close. So we’re always closed Christmas day and we closed New Year's Day. So Christmas Eve, we'll probably do some kind of family dinner packs or some kind of, but we'll close a little early. And we'd like to get the stuff out a little early so they can go home and you know, do whatever it is they do on Christmas Eve.


Brady Viccellio

Run to Walgreens and get their last-minute shopping done.


Alvin Williams

Yeah. I'm usually there too.


Brady Viccellio

I'll see you there.


Alvin Williams

I'm super last minute with the shopping.


Brady Viccellio

So going back to the difference of this year. The governor, what was it three weeks ago? All of a sudden knocked 90% off of our capacity. Parties started with groups of 250. And then one day, he said 25.


Alvin Williams

Reduced it to 25 per party. You know, I think we were talking with Jodi about this podcast or two ago. So when you have these Christmas parties that are somewhat your bread and butter through the winter, you know, you have large parties of I mean, I have up to 100-120 -- you have larger ones than that. And now you're told that you can't do that. So it's very difficult, you lose all those sales, you lose that customer that you get every year at that party. It's just real difficult. And it's hard to replace that business. In fact, it's impossible to replace that business.


Brady Viccellio

It's impossible. And not only that, I took deposits and room fees for these parties. And now they've had to cancel because of their size. So I can’t keep that money. I have to pay it back to them. And the cool thing about that is I’ve already spent it. Now I got to scrape together their deposit to give it back to them. And we've been doing that.


Alvin Williams

We have parties who are now well some of some of our parties that people are saying that they don't want to do them because it's going to promote super spreading. But some people have smaller parties. So they might say well, I've got 25 people and I want to come in and do a party. So what do you do with that? Do I shut down the restaurant for those 25 people and say well, hey, you know for you to cover my costs, expenses and everything for that night for 25 people. You got to pay x 1000 amount of dollars. I mean, how is that fair to anybody?


Brady Viccellio

Oh, I mean, it's not.


Alvin Williams

But that's the position that we're left in. Yeah, you can't have more than 25 people that know each other, I guess in the same room at the same time.


Brady Viccellio

All right, what's your favorite holiday meal? What do you what do you like to eat or drink?


Alvin Williams

I got a I got a holiday drink for you. It's a Jamaican drink. So I grew up with my family cooking lots of Jamaican food and, and the Jamaican drink was called Guiness punch. Kind of like you have your eggnog. I know you love eggnog. But this is the Jamaican version. So you take carrot juice, so you make carrot juice. And then you mix in condensed milk to give a little sweetener, and a little texture. And then you add Guinness stout. And then finally you finish it off with a little bit of rum.


Brady Viccellio

How come you never made this for me?


Alvin Williams

That's really good question. I figured I was the only one who liked it. But I will make some for you this Christmas.


Brady Viccellio

I made eggnog for you.


Alvin Williams

Every year and it is delicious.


Brady Viccellio

And of course I like the fresh eggnog. I like all eggnog really.


Alvin Williams

It is a production when you make it.


Brady Viccellio

I mean, you get you separate the eggs that you get pasteurized egg separate the eggs, cream the yolks with the sugar, whip the whites to kind of a soft peak. Mix all your ingredients you know it with milk and the cream and everything then you fold all the all the other ingredients and less the egg whites.


Alvin Williams

And you hand whisk this? I can't remember


Brady Viccellio

I use a mixer.


Alvin Williams

I just remember you making it out of my house in my kitchen was trashed.


Brady Viccellio

Yeah. Well…


Alvin Williams

But it was delicious. It was worth it was worth it.


Brady Viccellio

Well, also you had half the ingredients. So we had to kind of improvise. You had like three eggs.


Alvin Williams

Well, that's what chefs do. They improvise. Yeah, sometimes that's how you get a better dish.


Brady Viccellio

I think with you, I had to add the whipped cream. And that give it body. Yeah, well, so. Right. But anyway, you fold it all together with it with the egg whites. It's delicious.


Alvin Williams

You have a favorite holiday meal.


Brady Viccellio

Yeah, I always look forward to the turkey. Turkey’ss good.


Alvin Williams

Turkey at Thanksgiving and then turkey at Christmas.


Brady Viccellio

I think turkey is one of the most underrated proteins actually, I think it's delicious. It's healthy.


Alvin Williams

Because it can be easily overcooked and be dry.


Brady Viccellio

But if it's I mean, if you follow that little popper on there it works out pretty well.


Alvin Williams

Yeah, I saw that guy, Grant Achatz, the chef in Chicago\. He was trying to figure out how to make a turkey and it all be moist at the same time. So I think he had he put the turkey in an over the breast. He put like cold towels or like ice towels, and then cook the legs and the thighs first and then he took those off and then it all cooked at the same time.


Brady Viccellio

Because the problem is the dark meat takes longer to cook than the lightning. If your bag and time are cooked through your breast can be overcooked. So a lot of people part them out to cook them and start the leg and the thigh first.


Alvin Williams

But then you don't get that visual of the whole bird. We've talked a little bit about Christmas and parties and how you know we're going to do takeout. What do you think is on the horizon for us? New Years, because New Year's typically is a time where people come together and they celebrate and they look forward to the new year and everyone's you know, totally commingling. What do you think's going to happen this year?


Brady Viccellio

I mean, it's going to be reduced. It's just like everything else that they managed to, to smash up or Thanksgiving and break it into little pieces. And that's what's going to have real micro parties, you know, me family units, and maybe some neighbors, maybe here and there, and it's going to be small people will go out because I think, you know, it's going to be a busy night for both of us. And as it normally is, yeah. I think that that's a good option because you can go out and kind of feel like you're part of a part of a celebration without being tight in a group jammed in a room or a crowd. I mean, they're not are they not dropping the ball this year or something?


Alvin Williams

I just saw on the news or heard on the news this morning that the tree, the Rockefeller Center in Manhattan, just went up. But typically you can go and visit the tree and take pictures and hang out. And apparently this year, not so much.


Brady Viccellio

I mean, really, you don't visit the tree. You don't visit the ice skating rink. But it's that feeling -- that environment, all the lights and, and the people and the spirit and tinsel and the people with the little caps and the scarves.


Alvin Williams

Yeah, it's a feeling.


Brady Viccellio

It’s the whole experience.


Alvin Williams

I think you can only experience that from afar now, or maybe I think I heard they said that they would take in groups of four at a time that can look at the tree, and they can only look at it for five minutes.


Brady Viccellio

And my point is that that's looking at the tree is not the experience, right? Being there with people and feeling that energy.


Alvin Williams

Well, the tree is still there, they put it up.

Brady Viccellio

I mean, I'm sure there's a picture of it on the internet. You know, one thing that's nice, Alvin, is that both of us do these to-go meals, just like many other many restaurants. And I mean, I think certainly our goal with this podcast is to talk about more restaurants than our own. But as an example, we both have meals to go on. And we did on Thanksgiving, and we will on Christmas, people talk about buying gift cards, which is a great, you know, stocking stuffer gift idea. And also Christmas dinner and, you know, to be picked up or delivered. And, you know, it's a nice way to reach out to a loved one who you can't necessarily visit for fear of social distancing or infection.


Alvin Williams

Or an elderly neighbor who needs some food, you can send them food or a gift card, and then they can call when they want their their food and pay for it that way. Yeah, I think it's a great idea. The gift that keeps on giving?


Brady Viccellio

Well, at least until the food is consumed.


Alvin Williams

Yeah. But it'll also help out restaurants. I mean, there's like you said, I mean, our restaurants do that. But there's a lot of other restaurants around in Hampton Roads that are, can use that income from gift cards, and can just use the income in general.


Brady Viccellio

I did a little research on the internet to see what the favorite Christmas dishes are across the nation. Because of course, I want to make the favorites. Since I'm doing it, I want to make the favorites. And in one state, I think it was Nebraska or something, the favorite Christmas meal was pizza.


Alvin Williams

What?


Brady Viccellio

Yeah, I mean, I think what that is, is Christmas Eve, you're sitting around you order pizza, you know, and I think in in some locality that might be enough to really push it. My point is, as simple as ordering a pizza for a neighbor would be a nice gesture on in the holiday season. Hey, what are y'all doing tonight? I'm going to order your pizza.


Alvin Williams

Yeah, well, who's going to refuse a pizza?


Brady Viccellio

Not me.


Alvin Williams

And they saying that that's the best type of meal right now delivered? I guess during COVID because it holds well in the box.


Brady Viccellio

Oh, yeah. Well, yeah.


Alvin Williams

And a lot of these companies Domino's and Papa John's and all those things, they've created recipes to make sure that their crust is well travelable and crispy when it gets home.


Brady Viccellio

They'vegotten very scientific about it. Yes, those big corporations. I mean, probably. That's some of the best pizza you can have for travel is because it's engineered to last.


Alvin Williams

Do you think it? It reduces the flavor just because the way the engineering?


Brady Viccellio

I don't think it's ever as good as it is when it's fresh.


Alvin Williams

When itfirst comes out the oven.


Brady Viccellio

That’s the way we make ours. It's great at home, but it's fantastic out of the oven.


Alvin Williams

Pizza is also great the next day.


Brady Viccellio

I know that I've had some on the counter in the morning.


Alvin Williams

Breakfast. Go and you eat it cold or you heat it up. Cold? I don't think I can do that


Brady Viccellio

I saw on the internet. Somebody turned a toaster sideways as a pizza warmer.


Alvin Williams

Yes, yes. Smart or dangerous. One of the two.


Brady Viccellio

Both.


Alvin Williams

Brady, we've covered Christmas, and New Year's a little bit. And then the next thing for us, the next big thing is generally Valentine's Day. And if we're still going through this COVID thing, I think it's going to get really crispy generally, our guests come out in twos, it's like Noah, they come in two by two by two. And if we have to socially distance our tables, and they're only being seated with two people, or not four, six or eight, we're going to have a reduced number of people on that night. And that's going to be rough.


Brady Viccellio

The only way you can really accommodate the same number that you have in the past is to expand your hours. Yeah, and I would encourage flexibility If you want to enjoy a nice Valentine's evening with your significant other book early and be willing to have dinner at three in the afternoon or nine at night, yeah, you know, allow, allow people to spread out a little bit.


Alvin Williams

We can expand hours or you can expand your seat seating capacity.


Brady Viccellio

But only so much.


Alvin Williams

We go outside and then in February it's going to be cold.


Brady Viccellio

It's going to be cold. You know. I’d say, three of the past five Valentine's Days have actually been warm. I remember, because I had people sitting outside when they didn't have to.


Alvin Williams

Cool. Well, maybe we'll get lucky this year.


Brady Viccellio

Yeah, I hope so. Next year.


Alvin Williams

Yeah. Brady, we need to get the government to declare February the whole month as Valentine's Day, not just the 14th but the whole month.


Brady Viccellio

I declare. February. The month of love. All February. Is Valentine's Day.


Alvin Williams

Excellent. Very good. You heard it here first. On the Check.


Brady Viccellio

The problem with that? Alvin is that you know, you ever tried to celebrate a birthday after the birthday?


Alvin Williams

Or you are you come with your flowers? Happy anniversary. But no, the anniversary was two days ago. Okay. It doesn't go over very well.


Brady Viccellio

Yeah. Yeah. But COVID.


Alvin Williams

They didn't have any flowers two days ago.


Brady Viccellio

Socially distant celebrations can happen late. Maybe that's what it should be. We should allow dates, just, you know, we should be more flexible. We should be more flexible with that anyway. You know, we should be willing to celebrate a birthday, two weeks after, you should be willing to celebrate Valentine's Day, two weeks after.


Alvin Williams

Maybe we offer a special dinner or something for the whole week.


Brady Viccellio

Or the whole month. Remember, I declare?


Alvin Williams

Valentine's Day is the whole month of February.


Brady Viccellio

Maybe that's what we do. Virginia is for lovers. February is for lovers. There you go. Alvin, when you eat out and you have a good or bad experience do you ever, ever do a Yelp?


Alvin Williams

I never Yelp.


Brady Viccellio

Even if it's good?


Alvin Williams

I never Yelp. I have called someone especially if I know the person whose restaurant it is and I do try to eat in restaurants of people that I know.


Brady Viccellio

But you don't always.


Alvin Williams

No, I don't always but I'm just saying if I if I do know, I'll text him and say, Hey, the meal was great last night. Thank you. But I don't usually Yelp and say this was crap.


Brady Viccellio

But if it was great, why don't Yelp?


Alvin Williams

Well, you somewhat expect to have a great experience, don't you? If you go out and somebody's saying, you know, we're a great restaurant and we have great food, then wouldn't you expect to go to that great restaurant and have great food?


Brady Viccellio

Well, no. And certainly not and and pandemic, when everybody is half staffed? And, you know, randomly if somebody's sick or has a sniffle you don't let them work until they get to come in with a negative test. I mean, it's right. How can you run a flawless environment when you have those kind of restrictions? You have, maybe you have 75 people on your on your book that you've committed to to serve. And then all of a sudden, half of your staff come down with a cold. So with an abundance of caution, they take the night off. And well, I mean, you do that anyway. But if they if they have a reason that they suspect COVID -- they've they were someplace where somebody is or whatever, the show must go on.


Alvin Williams

So what are you saying that I should Yelp? I don't Yelp just because if I was to put my name on a Yelp or a Google review or something, people might think that I'm being biased.


Brady Viccellio

Oh, you can be biased.


Alvin Williams

Well, I own a restaurant. So people might think oh, well, he's just saying that because he owns a restaurant. He wants everyone to go to his restaurant.


Brady Viccellio

Well, if you only rated your restaurant five stars and everybody else's one.


Alvin Williams

All right, Brady, do you Yelp?


Brady Viccellio

No, I think I have it back when it was new to try it out. And I certainly didn’t do a negative Yelp.


Alvin Williams

And why do you choose not to Yelp?


Brady Viccellio

I think it's important to let somebody know, either way, when you're there. That's the time to do it. I think you strike while the iron hot when you're there and you say hey, look at this plate of food. Look how great it is. It's delicious. And we're really enjoying ourselves -- or any place on that continuum from bad to good. Maybe you call them over and say, everything's great here, or don't call them over, they come over. How are your meals? Here's what gets me. I go to every table on a night. And hey, how is everything? You're enjoying yourselves? Yeah, we're having a great time. Thanks, all the food's great. And you go on to every table -- 100%. Talk to every person in the restaurant. And then you go home, go to sleep. The next day, you get a bad Yelp review. From a table that you recognize from what they talked about. And they say my potato was cold. Everything was great, except for this happened. And why wasn't I afforded the opportunity to fix that, when we when we were there discussing it?


Alvin Williams

Well,I'll tell you why. Because I've had that same experience. And I think most restaurateurs have had the same experience. And what the guest will say, the next day on the phone or whatever, they'll say, “Well, I didn't I don't like confrontation.”


Brady Viccellio

So I'm wondering, though, because you don't like confrontation you wait? It's a good point. So if you don't like confrontation, what is it to go and write a bad review? When you're given the opportunity to discuss it? I think it what it is, is, it's an easy cop out. The fact is that Yelp is very important. The reason it's important is because it's a huge platform where people can say things. I got a four star review, and somebody just went on and on about how great everything is -- in the pandemic. Everything is great. We know why this place has got such a good reputation. Can't wait to come back. Four stars.


Alvin Williams

Four stars out of five is what you’re saying.


Brady Viccellio

Why is that? Why not five?


Alvin Williams

Yeah, maybe they hit the wrong button. Maybe they hit a four star instead of the five stars. You take it so personally.


Brady Viccellio

Well, so why shouldn't you? It is personal,


Alvin Williams

It does matter. But it's not everything. And I like to focus on the customers that say nice things are not the ones that focus on the negative thing.


Brady Viccellio

Well,that's where you and I differ. I focus on them all just alike, Alvin.


Alvin Williams

Yeah, well, you're a better man than I am. Sometimes there's some people that you can never please, just like you said, they said everything was perfect. Everything was great, great experience, great view, great service. And then they only give you four stars instead of five, I don't think there's anything that you can do to make them give you that fifth star. So I would rather take that time that I would and energy that I'll try to get that extra star from them and give that to other people.


Brady Viccellio

Harvard did a study a while back, and they said that every star is worth 10%. If you go from five stars to four stars on your rating, it takes 10% off your gross.


Alvin Williams

Never thought of it that way.


Brady Viccelllio

Well, I mean, that's what they say. A star is worth 10%. So if you can go from four stars to five stars, you can add 10% or three stars to four stars. It's a lot. I don't believe that really people understand how much they're punishing somebody for this level of imperfection. It can definitely put people out of business, it's the difference between making it and not making it and during a pandemic. I'm fortunate to have a very good Yelp rating. I'm fortunate to have a lot of great reviews. And so are you. But I've been to a lot of decent restaurants who are working really hard to please their customers. And I see these reviews coming across and they're harsh.


Alvin Williams

Well, sometimes if you got nothing good to say maybe you should just say nothing at all.


Brady Viccellio

Or just say it to the person that matters.


Alvin Williams

Yeah, direct. Yeah, I agree with that. Totally. They should call direct and say, Look, I have this issue, here's the issue, and then give that person a chance to respond or to fix it.


Brady Viccellio

Alvin, as usual, it was good to spend time with you and chat a little bit. We talked about a lot of things. And to recap, we've discussed gift cards to your favorite restaurants,


Alvin Williams

Your favorite non corporate restaurants. Yep.


Brady Viccellio

Right. Buying dinner for a friend, a loved one.


Alvin Williams

That just shows how much you love that friend or that person and how much you care and also at the same time you’re supporting your local favorite restaurant,


Brady Viccellio

And you can have that delivered or deliver it yourself. Let them know that it’ll be ready for pickup for them. You know, everybody has different ways of handling that. Make reservations early.


Alvin Williams

Making reservations is great. It lets the restaurants know that you’re coming so they can get prepared. They can have enough staff on, enough food. It's a great thing to do.


Brady Viccellio

The best thing you can do to be socially distant is to be flexible with your reservation time. Make them early ahead of time, small groups and make them often.


Alvin Williams

Yeah. And it just helps us keep you safe.


Brady Viccellio

Be safe and support your local restaurants.


Alvin Williams

Yeah. And you can check out some of those local restaurants that we've talked to on the podcast on our website…


Brady Viccellio

…Thecheckpodcast.com, where you will see transcripts…


Alvin Williams

…and photographs, other episodes. Well, I'm Alvin.


Brady Viccellio

And I’m Brady, and this is The Check.

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