How award-winning Phoenix chef Chris Bianco managed the pandemic
This story is part of KTAR News’ “Pandemic in Arizona: One Year In” special report on 92.3 FM, online and our app.
PHOENIX — Like many in the hospitality industry, award-winning Phoenix chef Chris Bianco was blindsided by the totality of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Pizzeria Bianco and his other acclaimed restaurants struggled with the changing times despite their best efforts.
Financial losses, workforce cuts and new policies became a reality for Bianco.
A year later, Bianco’s still in recovery mode.
“This definitely wasn’t in the handbook, the pandemic,” Bianco told KTAR News 92.3 FM’s The Mike Broomhead Show on Friday. “There was nothing that could prepare us for this.”
This year is Bianco’s 32nd year in business in Phoenix. Despite his experience, he’s dealing with challenges in an industry he calls a “house of cards.”
Restaurants were among the hardest hit with restrictions as states attempted to curb the spread of COVID-19.
For Bianco, that meant occupancy limits and dine-in closures for his eateries that had always been consistently packed.
Bianco said his workforce dropped from 135 employees to 85 as a result. He considered temporarily closing to cut his losses.
“It might have been cheaper for us just to close and, you know, wait for some type of help to come,” Bianco said. “But that wasn’t our reality. Our reality was we got people that I’m responsible for.”
Bianco said he’s grateful to have made it through the pandemic so far and is seeing improvements as cases decline and vaccinations ramp up.
Despite the progress, Bianco expects a slow return to normal for the industry.
“I always be honest and it is getting better right now,” Bianco said. “It feels, you know, kind of like a normal city in that moment. But I think it’s kind of like when you’re coming out of a rehab assignment for sports or maybe postsurgery.”