Posted on Apr 28, 2020
Rotary Club of Needham Newsletter April 28th, 2020
Due to the coronavirus pandemic and mandatory social distancing, most of our volunteer opportunities and community support activities have been postponed. In response, we've continued to fund local and international charities. We've maintained our regular club meetings on Tuesdays at noon. But, to keep everyone safe, our meetings have moved on-line.
Surviving the Quarantine in the Restaurant Business. Speaker: Chef Mike Fucci (photo below)
Chef Mike Fucci talked to us about growing up in his family's restaurant business, mentored by his Uncle, the original "Chef Mike". Starting at 13, he learned the business from the bottom up: cleared tables, washed dishes, waited tables, cooked, eventually becoming head chef after his Uncle. When his Uncle died in 2004, Chef Mike took a break from the restaurant business. He wrote a cookbook: "Delicious Attitude", which brought the attention of The Food Network. He won their 2017 competition show, "Cutthroat Kitchen", where each episode featured four competing chefs in three elimination rounds. At the same time, he ran Chef Mike's catering business from Watertown.
Looking to reenter the "bricks and mortar" restaurant business, the availability of the former D'Angelos space at 73 Highland Avenue in Needham offered an opportunity. Chef Mike's Restaurant opened there at the end of July '19. Mike described his cooking style for the Boston Globe: "authentic and fast-casual. Everything is super fresh. There are no freezers in the building. Everything is prepared everyday." The menu offers Italian classics prepared with "time, patience, love and respect for the food". "People should come in and expect the classics, but also for there to be something different, maybe something they haven't had before". I have happily sampled Chef Mike's tasty chicken and sausage risotto, and I can testify that quantities are ample at attractive prices. Mike told the Globe with a laugh: "People are getting second meals out of me". 
To state the obvious, the coronavirus has increased the challenge of starting a new restaurant. Chef Mike's restaurant has stayed open as a curbside takeout, delivery, and catering business. His focus during quarantine is on scrupulous cleanliness of the kitchen and leading the staff around issues of exposure to the virus. Mike used profanity to describe the Federal government's small business rescue lending program, which was first-come, first-served, but hobbled by a portal crashing under the urgency of the demand, then it ran out of money, and it has lots of "strings attached". His thoughts: it's more important to have the love and support of the community than the support of the government.