Updated: Sep 7
On March 24 I started working on a project called Take Out Only in response to the impact the COVID-19 pandemic has had on restaurants in my area. In my work as a food photographer, I work with a lot of restaurants, both established and new. This is a huge hit for them. When most restaurants fail in the first year, something like this can put even a restaurant that has been in business for years out of business...fast. The impact of this virus has touched so many industries, my own included.
I wanted to bring attention to the places that I've worked with, and the ones that I have never even been to. To let people know what they're dealing with, how they're still
operating, what they're doing to stay safe, both for themselves and their customers. Using what I can out of my talent set, this is my way of saying thank you, we know you're struggling, how can I help.
Billy Grant in front of Restaurant Bricco in West Hartford. Billy, his staff and friends handed out over 200 meals to restaurant workers that have lost income due to restaurant closings in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak.
My friend Kerry suggested I contact Billy Grant. Billy Grant of Restaurant Bricco in West Hartford. Billy Grant of Bricco Trattoria in Glastonbury. Billy Grant of B/G Catering. I knew of him and his brothers restaurant group, but had never had the experience of dining with them, or meeting them.
I reached out to Billy and he was so kind to let me come by as they prepped for dinner. When I got there he told me they were practicing social distancing while the staff worked. They only had about 6 staff working at the time, each at their own station, masked and gloved and intensely working. I was introduced to Oscar who seemed to be second in charge, I never found out for sure, but Billy seemed to be turning to him to get important things done.
The restaurant was closed with signs on the door and a sandwich board outside that offered comfort by saying "In uncertain times there's one thing you can depend on: Take Out from Restaurant Bricco. Open" This was followed by Billy's signature saying: "Live and Eat Well Always."
I wasn't familiar with that philosophy, but I liked it.
Billy gave me permission to shoot in the bar and dining room, telling me I could move things with gloved hands. Oscar was working behind the tall bar that separates the dining area from the stoves and prep areas, and the two big wood-fired ovens. The ovens were cold and dark as Oscar worked and I explored the closed space with my camera. Then Billy came out from the kitchen and invited me in. He was making lasagna and it was a good time to capture him at work. I nestled in the farthest corner I could and watched as he methodically built 4 or 5 thick pans of lasagna, layer by layer. He told me he was making preparations for the coming Sunday. They were making family dinners to give to restaurant workers who had lost work due to COVID-19. He worked intently and swiftly, spreading deep-red sauce and spooning oregano-speckled dollops of ricotta on sheets of lasagna pasta. I was amazed at how many layers each pan had. I asked him if I could come back on Sunday to photograph the turn-out for the dinners, he said, "Sure. Be here at 1:30."
The staff continued to work on the preparations for the take-out orders that would come in for that night. It was quiet, with an undercurrent of busy. Oscar fired up the ovens for me to photograph at Billy's suggestion. It was incredible how much heat they threw out when he got them to full-blaze. I felt for whoever was working in that area. I moved closer to peer in as close as I dared, protecting my camera from the intense heat. I imagined all the pizza that was cooked to crispy, full perfection in that space.
The bar area was closed up, all the square stools stacked in neat lines on top of the wooden bar. The red tile floor clean and quiet. The many bottles behind the bar sat with their labels facing forward, they seemed to be waiting for something. As I was getting down on my knees to capture the bar from a low angle, a woman came in. She started answering the ringing phone, jotting down orders and answering questions for the person on the other end. As soon as she hung up the phone, it would ring again quickly. We chatted a little and I told her what I was doing there, but she was always called back to the phone before we got too far. She did tell me she was there trying to help out; Billy was a friend.
My first shoot there I captured the minimal staff prepping, Oscar filleting a salmon from across the room from me, other staff alone in other areas working on prep I couldn’t see. Billy made those lasagna and then moved on to eggplant parm.
But the most striking moment for me was when Billy came to the empty dining room. It's empty tabletops were piled with Saran-Wrapped stacks of dishes and trays of forks, knives and spoons. One table had a huddle of menus clipped onto tarnished metal holders. The lights were turned low, only one or two at full power. One was over a large rectangular table where Billy had come from the kitchen and settled. He had a stack of papers and a phone was on the table next to him. Occasionally it would light up and Billy would glance at it quickly before putting it back down and turning his attention back to the papers. He held his hand to his forehead as he seemed deep in thought. The strong light above him highlighted the gesture, the darkness of the empty restaurant surrounding him alone at the table. I captured the moment quietly and respectively, and then took my leave after thanking Billy for the time he so generously gave me. He had work to do.
The following Sunday I pulled into a space in front of Bricco and parked. There was a table set up outside, the door was propped open and a few people were milling around. Other cars pulled in the slanted spaces next to me and I opened my door to get out. I was immediately greeted by a piece of paper with the number 4 printed on it being thrust into my hand. It was Billy. He was passing out numbers to each person as they pulled in. He didn't recognize me at first and I reminded him I was here to take pictures of the event. He said "Hi, yeah," and was off to give out the next number to the car that pulled in next to me.
The people started rolling in at a steady, but not overwhelming pace. Billy's friend, (whose name escapes me! He owns Toasted in Hartford) and staff was running the family meals to the table stationed out front. People came up and dropped their number in the basket and slid a silver aluminum tray with a folded paper bag on top off the table. Each person called out a "Thank you, Billy" as they smiled and greeted others they knew that were in the same boat. Affected by this situation, touched by a caring persons gesture, they stopped to chat for a moment and check in. Billy seemed to just want to make sure everyone got fed. When there was a lull in the activity, he stood gripping the remaining numbered slips in the right hand of his crossed arms. I could feel his want to help. He waited for more to come, and more did come. He gave them a number and waited for even more.
He gave out 50 meals that day, but had done this the weekend before too. I can't imagine the cost of the food. The time to prepare it, package it up, get it ready to go.
I waited until the last three meals were on the staging area outside and felt it was time to go. I told Billy and quickly explained how I'd get the images to him. He thanked me and as I was leaving he said, "Here, you take one too." I stopped and took the slip of paper with the number 4 out of my pocket. I paused for a second, then dropped it in the basket. I slid the heavier-than-expected tray off the table and called thanks to Billy as he hurried off to give out the last of his numbers.
The Family Meal that Restaurant Bricco gave out to unemployed restaurant workers: It included two thick slabs of Lasagna, a pint of red sauce, shredded mozzarella, fresh garlic bread, Caesar salad, apple crisp and (not pictured, they didn't survive the ride home) three chocolate chip cookies.
Restaurant Bricco is located at 78 LaSalle Road West Hartford, CT 860-233-0220.
Learn more about Restaurant Bricco here
Please note: I practice social distancing guidelines, shoot with long lenses to look like I'm closer than I am, get in and get out to stay out of the way and do not go in to kitchen's unless invited, stay far back from food and I check my temperature before going out #takeoutonly #nationaltakeoutday #bricco #westhartfordct #keepcalmandcarryout #bar #86caronavirus #open #wellbeback #werestillhere #ctfoodphotographer #breadandbeast #italian #chef #carryout #grantbrothers