From a decade running his restaurant East Providence Avenue N American Kitchen, Nick Rabar knew what kind of crowd and sales he would one day have given. He could look back and know what to expect on vacations like New Years or even any day of the week.
“Then it creeps in,” he says, adding, “Every day is unique.”
“This” is the COVID-19 pandemic that has changed all aspects of business, and llfe. He said it revealed the fragility of the two.
“The biggest challenge is not knowing what’s going to happen tomorrow,” said Rabar, who also owns Avenue N Providence and the Avenue N Pantry, with his wife Tracy Rabar.
From a human perspective, it was all just scary at first, both for the family and for the 35 people who work for N Avenue and depend on their jobs, he said.
Her family has lost a loved one, friends have lost family, and people have fallen ill, what Rabar calls life-changing pain.
The focus on business and economics came second for him and Tracy as they sought to stay focused on the positive with all new challenges, Rabar said. They felt it was also important for their guests to be optimistic.
They had just bought and were ready to open their new Providence Avenue N on Hope Street last March. When they finally opened, it was in April, for take out only. No one had sat at the bar before Valentine’s Day weekend 10 days ago. He doesn’t think they’ve even scratched the surface of what this restaurant will be like when it’s fully open.
But the couple and their N Avenue are doing well, Rabar says. He uses one word to describe how: adaptability.
He doesn’t take days off and Tracy works from home while two of their sons go to school. A third is at university.
Take-out has been a blessing at both restaurants, though they’ve changed their offerings and rotated the menu based on what their customers want. This includes fried chicken and pizza.
They upped their social media game with daily Instagram food photos that attracted new customers.
The big news from Rabar is that they are hoping to add a fourth business as they search for space to open a chicken-focused restaurant. It will highlight many dishes that have been popular for take out over the past year. Where is it going to be? Rabar said they will know the perfect location when they see it.
Saying it feels like “We’ve just come out of the eye of the storm,” Rabar shared his thoughts on what’s changed with restaurants.
“If you had asked me a year ago today, why do people go out to eat, I would have said it was for entertainment,” he said.
Restaurants were a night out with friends or family to go out and share a meal together, he said.
“When the pandemic hit, it changed my outlook on food,” he added.
It is no longer about entertainment but about the need for food in its purest form.
Likewise, their N Avenue pantry, open every day, has grown with more local produce and groceries. Soon, more ice cream and pasta. Their well-stocked case of ready meals changes daily.
“It’s become a great way to do small purchases,” he says. “The tables and chairs are gone and have been replaced with new additional products.”
Rabar also likes to talk about his staff. “We are nothing with our team,” he said, calling them loyal, optimistic and successful. They rehired everyone and added jobs.
Rabar notes what he called remarkable community support in both his Rumford neighborhood in East Providence and Providence. They took advantage of alfresco dining at both locations. “As soon as it hits 40 degrees, people are ready to have dinner outside,” he said.
We have seen the best of people. We just prepared 140 meals for frontline workers that a Rumford resident wanted to distribute. They did it only out of kindness.
“It all means a little more now,” he said.
Details: Avenue N American Kitchen, 20 Newman Ave., East Providence, (401) 270-2836, avenuenamericankitchen.com, open daily for dinner.
Avenue N Providence, 959 Hope Street, Providence, (401) 270-3895,avenuenprovidence.com, open Monday to Saturday for dinner.
The Pantry at Avenue N, 20 Newman Ave., East Providence, (401) 228-6691,avenuenamericankitchen.com, open every day.
Get a recipe from Nick Rabar
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