Mallorca owner discusses restaurant industry and return of Wine & Dine in the Dark
Cleveland Business Journal reporter Kevin Smith looks at the past few years, market conditions, and the impact on local restaurants. He interviews Mallorca owner Laurie Torres for her perspective. See the article below:
Restaurants have to get creative to survive
Amid the Covid-19 pandemic, restaurants have had the get creative to thrive — or even just to survive — during a time when many are closing their doors for good.
Downtown Cleveland is no exception, as numerous restaurants in The Warehouse District and Flats served their last meals in 2020, including as Bar Louie, XO Prime Steaks, and Backyard Bocce.
Start looking for new ways to attract talent
Laurie Torres, the owner of Mallorca, a Spanish restaurant that’s been on West 9th Street for about 25 years, thinks that in order for the industry to get over the hump, it have to start looking at new ways to attract talent.
Torres will be speaking at a Thursday County Council meeting on the proposed $435 million stadium renovation of Progressive Field.
“I’ll be discussing how the Indians and restaurants work together and feed off of each other,” she said.
Torres discussed with The Cleveland Business Journal what she saw in the restaurant industry and her plans for Mallorca.
Owner Laurie Torres hopeful for 2022
When it comes to attracting talent, Torres believes the industry has some rebranding to do if it wants to meet its biggest challenge for years: consistent access to quality labor.
“You’re invited to every party. You’re part of people’s celebrations. You’re a part of people’s history. People remember that. We have to frame it as a fun thing to do,” Torres said. “It’s a space for people who haven’t gone to college to come and be able to play their cards right if they are smart.”
She believes that giving employees adequate time off, ensuring that they’re treated respectfully by customers, and offering opportunities for growth all will play a huge role in attracting talent to restaurants.
To give her own employees time off, Torres closed the restaurant for a week this past September.
“Some of our staff members have been with us for 20, 25 years. The only way you can call them family is if you treat them like family,” Torres said. “After 25 years, we’ll be OK. People won’t think we’ll be closing because we give our staff a break.”
Going forward, Torres plans to close the restaurant twice per year to give staff time off.
“A lot of people think the restaurant industry is dead end, but there’s a lot of avenues that people don’t traditionally think of,” Torres said. “Our head manager makes over $100K per year. Before, he worked as a waiter and janitor and in other various roles in the industry.”
There's a demand for good food to go now
In Cleveland, Torres says she’s seeing an increase in to-go food fueled by innovations during Covid-19.
“There’s a demand for good food to go now, not just burgers and pizza,” Torres said. “I think you’ll see food trucks and more stuff to go. Even in restaurants like ours, which offers more fine dining, we are trying to prepare food more quickly to go.”
However, she said that the industry is still dealing with some of the fallout in attendance due to the pandemic.
“I think people were cooling off with Covid-19 at first,” Torres said. “They were removing their masks, but then the Delta variant came along.”
As the industry continues to make a comeback, Torres expects to see restaurants get creative with how to meet distancing requirements. She also expects to see masks stay around longer for restaurants in order to lower the risk of an outbreak and make customers feel comfortable.
“People might have to do what they did last year with spacing out tables and putting tents along the outside,” Torres said. “If there’s a perceived risk to people, then the mask should stay on for comfort.”
Torres believes the restaurant industry will boom in 2022.
“I think the industry will recover and continue to grow” Torres said. “I think that restaurants that were closed will be replaced with new ones as the demand for restaurant food is increasing and continues to increase.”
For example, restaurants Lightroom and Filter from restaurateur Kyler Smith are expected to open in the next couple months within a block of Mallorca.
Planning for the return of Wine & Dine in the Dark
Torres also is planning the return of Wine & Dine in the Dark, a five-course dinner during which attendees are blindfolded and typically eat with their fingers.
“I had read about them doing this in California and New York,” Torres said. “Well, I thought they had nothing on us, because this is Cleveland, and we’re Mallorca.”
But Torres added some of her signature touches to Mallorca’s version of the event.
“This is completely different — you are in a pitch-black room with blindfolds on. You’ll really experience what it’s like to eat in the dark,” Torres said.
The experience will return on Oct. 28 with tickets priced at $80 a piece. Tickets include a full course meal and at least nine glasses of wine, which Torres says she’s never seen anyone finish yet.
“It’s some of the most fun you’ll have in the dark,” Torres said.
The upcoming Wine & Dine in the Dark events will include Spanish Carnival and 1980s Spain themes. However, Torres wants the events to take into account how her guests may feel about hygiene and social distancing.
“I’ll have to space people out more and be more conscientious of people eating with their fingers,” Torres said.
But that’s not all for Laurie’s upcoming plans. Soon, she’s looking to bring some of Mallorca’s dishes and drinks to shelves at stores in the area.
“There’s ways to expand a restaurant without opening another location,” Torres said.
In the near future, Torres is also considering opening a ghost kitchen and food truck for the Spanish restaurant.
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