Delores Tronco-DePierro is the owner of the Banty Rooster. Photo: Scott Heins For three months, Delores Tronco-DePierro and John DePierro served Southwestern fare at their West Village restaurant, the Banty Rooster. Praise rapidly rolled in for their take on a cuisine rarely seen in New York City, as did a lineup of regulars hungry for pork collar with hatch chile, and the spice-packed bizcochitos. However with the pandemic guttingthe variety ofrestaurants they might seat, and Tronco-DePierro reaching an impasse in lease negotiations, reopening the Banty has tested impossible. Now, the couple, and former Denverites, will stategoodbye to New York, and head more than 1,600 miles back west to the Mile-High City to attempt once again. Tronco-DePierro spoke to Grub Street about leaving so soon, and what benefits Denver might use her and the Banty Rooster 2.0 in a post-COVID-19 world. We opened our doors to the general public on December 11, 2019– 96 days before the coronavirus hit. The blessing in all of this is that for those three months, I lived what was a lifelong dream: For somebody who grew up in a town in Colorado to make it here. That’s all I ever wanted.
I opened my very first restaurant, Work & Class, in Denver in 2014. I wanted it to be a neighborhood restaurant, and then it just sort of blew up. The restaurant had nationwide recognition, we were remarkably busy, and I think I got to a point three years into that where I believed,”What’s next?”I actually wished to keep growing, I wanted the challenge of a harder market, and New York had never ever stopped calling. There’s something remarkable to me about Southwestern cuisine, and I felt like it was missing out on in New York. In a city where I might go find almost anything to consume, I could not get green chili. You ‘d see these little examples– Arizona 206 is an example from method back, Bobby Flay had his place, Mesa Grill– but still, I just felt it was something that wasn’t here, and Southwest was something I felt both Johnny, the executive chef, and I might speak with truly. I grew up in Colorado and throughout my childhood we ‘d go to go to New Mexico. Johnny’s household transferred to El Paso, Texas, when he was 15, and then he spent 17 years in Colorado. After we opened, I was surprised at the variety of people that came into the restaurant, and said “I’m from New Mexico,” or they were Coloradans or Texans or people from Arizona that resembled “I’m so homesick, and I’m so pleased it’s here.” And likewise people who were experiencing it for the very first time and having that ah-ha minute, like, “Holy shit where have these hatch chiles been my entire life?” Some of my favorite clients were 2 gentlemen in their early ’80s. They resided in the West Village for 40-plus years. These 2 would come in at 8 o’clock, they ‘d want to have 2 rounds of martinis, and then they ‘d want to have dinner. They ‘d always want to have dessert. They came in 2 or three times a month.
The reception that we got was exactly what I expected, and what my group worked for. However in March, when COVID-19 hit, the ground underneath our feet was shifting daily, maybe even per hour. I chose Sunday morning, March 15, that we would not be continuing. Even a week prior, I had felt that my greatest ethical commitment was to keep my staff working, but I rapidly felt that my greatest ethical commitment was to keep them safe. Not a single among my staff can afford to live in Manhattan, including myself, and so everybody would’ve been commuting in on trains, and that felt risky. I chose to err on the side of outright care, and we closed. At that point my life became a series of e-mails, webinars, trying to figure out what was possibly readily available. I did submit an organisation disruption claim, and I got a denial for that claim on the 20th. I likewise applied for, and got, PPP loans. At the start of May, I began in earnest to attempt to negotiate a lease scenario with our property owner, who has actually owned the structure outright because 1998. Resuming is significant work, and it’s costly in a time that’s very unsure. A big piece for me to resume was knowing I would have a tenable scenario moving forward. Our lease for that area is$ 23,000 a month, and in a pre-COVID-19 environment, that was ok. Is it still a lot? Yes, but it was ok. In a post-COVID-19 environment, that was no longer possible. Our very first three months in company, our revenues in fact surpassed what I had predicted. Post-COVID-19, I assemble new forecasts. I determined our patio location to see the number of outdoor seats we might have, took a look at aspects like on average the number of days do we think rain wipes us out– the other night the rain came fast and so hard. All of my tables and chairs began getting overturned and blown into the street. Originally, we had 74 seats. With proper social distancing, we ‘d have 24, so I wrote new forecasts based on that. Of course, we lost; it’s just mathematics. Our truth today is I have 18 seats outdoors, and those seats are entirely vulnerable to rain, but I do not have any additional money today for some type of awning, and PPP loans can’t purchase me umbrellas. I still need to spend for insurance, and the PPP was designed to be two-and-a-half months of payroll; as soon as it’s gone, you’re back to paying all of your labor. I provided the property owner$69,000. I prepaid for the month of May, so$23,000, and another $46,000 out of my PPP fund. I asked, “Would you be willing to accept that and amortize that toward the end of the year with a percentage of sales on top of that, and we’ll open as soon as we have a contract exercised?” She unfortunately was not open to that. Her statement was that portion lease is a disincentive for me to strive , and that she was not in business of supporting her tenants. That was painful, because that’s not real. It was most likely late June when it actually hit me there wasn’t a long-term course here, and that any future in New York would be dealt with extraordinary tension, trying to make numbers work when they basically do not work. In that minute, the lightbulb went on, and I believed,”I have another option,” and that option is to move the Banty to Denver and to go to a market where I have a solid track record, I have a network of people who are advocates and fans, and there are property managers who are looking for excellent tenants, and who want to assemble deals that make sense in light of the present scenario. Like, it’s not even amusing. Rent is a fraction of what you ‘d see in New York, maybe half in a desirable area. Landlords use tenant improvement dollars and incentivize excellent tenants to come into areas. It’s not just lease. There are a variety of other expenses– the insurance costs less, entering into company costs less, opening moves much faster. My alcohol license in New York City– by the time I paid the legal costs and for the license– was over$ 60,000, and it took 9 months. At certain points, I in fact had to go to the State Alcohol Authority in person and state,”I will sit here today as long as it takes but I require someone to assist me. I require to leave with my alcohol license in my hand. “In Denver, it’s a 90-day procedure and it costs around$10,000.
A substantial variety of people I have actually dealt with in the industry, who are not necessarily owners– they’re chefs, they’re servers, they’re somms– are leaving New York. I rehired 8 people on my group; 6 have actually validated that they’ll be vacating state at some point in the next year. We’re going to see a lot of the secondary markets grow.
We made the decision to resume for company in New York for one last seven-week goodbye trip. We’re doing dinner from Wednesday through Saturday, and we’re offering through the inventory of things we currently have, trying to incur as few costs as possible. I likewise want to have some emotional closure, saying goodbye to New York, and this chapter of the Banty Rooster and my life. The hardest part was coming to terms with the reality that something I wanted, and worked so hard for– to see the arc of it. There’s the anticipation and the opening, and then that short minute of happiness. It’s type of like being the new moms and dad: the infant is finally here, you’re tired, you’re up all night, but it’s the important things you worked for. I liked it fiercely, and pursued months to make it work. However there were aspects that ran out my control– and it didn’t matter how hard I worked. It didn’t matter.
I asked myself what lengths I would go to to conserve this company, and for me, the length became that I would move it across this nation. I would leave this place that I love, but I ‘d have a genuine battling possibility to do what I love to do, and for my other half and me to have our livelihood once again.