The largest restaurant in Latin America, Madalosso, located in the Brazilian city of Curitiba, has just reopened its doors after remaining closed for two months to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. The Italian-food outlet, capable of catering to 4,000 people at the same time, is now planning to offer drive-in, drive-thru, and delivery services to continue attending its base of customers amid the pandemic. With these new proposals, the business expects to reach 40% of previous regular revenues.
Madalosso restaurant is a tourist spot founded by Italian immigrants in the southern Brazilian city in the 1960s. But, due to the coronavirus pandemic in the country, where previously there were crowded huge parking lots and tables full of families having lunch, it had been empty for more than 60 days.
For the first time in six decades, the second largest restaurant in the world was closed on a Mother’s Day, when attendance is highest. Before the pandemic, Madalosso served around 60,000 meals monthly – only those meals, excluding beverages, events and other extras, brought in gross revenues of nearly BRL 3 million per month.
For two months, Madalosso’s rooms were unrecognizable: its mirrors, once giving the impression of even more people being served, amplified the emptiness. Meanwhile, in hospitals, doctors keep fighting a virus that has already killed 17,375 people in the country.
“The pandemic is not simple. When we saw that it was about to reach Brazil, we were prepared for closing down to preserve customers and employees. We couldn’t continue working in an environment where we were not sure about safety”, explains Lorenzo Madalosso, one of the its managers.
As COVID-19 has forced shutting restaurants down from Austria to Zambia, Madalosso was one of the first restaurants in Curitiba, the eighth-largest city in Brazil, to close its doors. Despite the financial loss, Lorenzo believes that was the right decision.
Now, Madalosso restaurants are reopening cautiously, by restricting the number of customers. “In this period, we took the opportunity to make our environment safe, both for employees and customers. If there are more customers than what we can handle, they will wait, we have an established limit”, he says.
The businessman says he had studied several options to adapt to the new reality brought by the virus. One of the ideas was a drive-in cinema, very popular in the 1950s and which now is making a comeback in Argentina, the United States, and Europe as a form of entertainment while meeting social distancing standards.
Madalosso saw the drive-in as an opportunity to use the restaurant’s big parking lot to serve its famous fried ‘mandioca’ with chicken and soda. The proposed idea is also a charitable project, since the ticket would be a donation, reverted to a solidarity campaigns.
“As we see that the pandemic can last for long, we are not in such a hurry to launch it, but we want to launch it just right, with consistent rules, so that it respects all safety standards and is in compliance with what the authorities request”, he says. Madalosso is still negotiating with the city hall of Curitiba rules for its implementation. “Distance between cars, mask-wearing, prohibition to get out of the car unless it is to go to the restroom, limit to the number of vehicles. Several rules were established to preserve people’s health”, he adds.
The concept of a drive-thru can also reach the traditional restaurant, according to Lorenzo, since the model is in high demand. Madalosso never offered delivery, but it is also something on the table now. “We have a delivery project ready to launch,” he says.
The partner also bets on a Rotisserie, which offers pasta from the restaurant, frozen and ready for sale. Madalosso explains that even with these initiatives, the expectation is to earn much less than before the pandemic and that the idea is to adjust over time.
The restaurant had to dismiss about 5% of the staff. Now it has 300 employees. But, according to him, layoffs were already scheduled to happen.
“Whoever is not seen is not remembered and whoever is not adapting will not be remembered”, he points out. For the entrepreneur, during the crisis, the customer must know that the restaurant is there, offering options to consumers.