Chef Danny Lledó had only just opened his restaurant Xiquet and reopened his Slate Wine Bar when the Covid-19 restaurant shutdown came. That was helpful only in that his spaces were new-kitchen clean and he’d already been understaffed, so he had fewer workers to furlough and lay off. But closing a restaurant only two weeks after opening? Instead of planning spring menus, he started applying for grants. Instead of fine-tuning service stations, he began costing out large-format to-go family meals to make good of his rotisserie and plancha.
Spanish and Portuguese, Danny is a particularly social chef — which is saying a lot, as the best chefs I’ve worked with embody the word hospitality, as warm and welcoming as much as they are hard-working and detail-oriented. They love a party as much as they love a perfect sizzle or slice.
And so Danny seemed particularly lost at sea when we spoke, unsure of what the future would bring for his restaurants or those of his fellow DC-area friends. He’s a hospitality veteran, so he can handle the shifts and changing tides. But he was just there with his new spaces, rebuilding his community of staff and guests. And with that warm Iberian blood, he’s missing the simple things — a double kiss on the cheek, a hug from a family member, and feeding people when they’re tired and need a smile.
Here’s a bit of our interview that didn’t make it into the story for my client.
Chef Danny Lledó
Interview taken March 30, 2020
“We’re the industry that people really don’t realize how hard we’re hit. Interesting enough. It’s easy to say, ‘Hey, we’re going to give money to banks. We’re going to give money to airlines. Or to give money to this sector…’ But do you really know how much our sector employees across the board and how you’ve not been equitable for that for small businesses?
I mean, it really hurts that so many of my colleagues might not be in business anymore once we reopen. I don’t think anybody can say, ‘Six months from now, it’s going to be this, that, and the other.’ You can make assessments. But the reality is we don’t even know what it looks like in the general environment: Do we have a vaccine? Do people no longer have it? Is it that people feel comfortable enough?
So for Xiquet: We have 30 seats. I think for the first three or four months, we’re gonna take two tables away and make sure every table has big distance from the other—bigger than what it already was. (It already was pretty spread out, but now, probably anywhere from six to eight feet separation. And we can do that by just taking two tables out.) I think people are going to be less likely to go to places that are super crowded and more interested in going to places that are not that…
I don’t know….
It’s really interesting to see, when you look at it from a global perspective: You see Italy, you see Spain, right? You see countries that are really close to each other culturally and by distance. And when I mean “culture”, it’s like when customers become your friends – you have them over for Fourth of July, like that. That’s the nature when you’re in hospitality. You want to hug people. You want to welcome people into your house. It’s really hard to say that how much we miss that. I think that’s the thing I personally miss the most. I have my aunt, I have my cousins, my nephews, and stuff like that. And we are living in a current society that tells us that we need to stay by ourselves in lockdown, can’t see our family and friends? That’s really hard. I think that’s the toughest thing for me because I’m a social person, because I love to hug and kiss my family.
And I go home. And that’s it. I do what’s necessary.
If in two months from now, everybody feels super safe – like, there’s plenty of vaccines, hospitals are not full with this issue, and people are confident? Who knows? People may want to be in a crowded place because they miss that.”Danny Lledó