Orders must be placed online a day before, and customers are not allowed inside the shop. Food is prepared by Atticus chef Matt Wick, and then processed by Atticus Cafe General Manager Brandi Hawkins. To avoid the possibility of contamination, Hawkins is the only person to enter and exit the space. She wears gloves and a mask at all times.
“We felt like we could safely provide the community with some food and provide some of our staff with an income,” said Charlie Negaro, Jr., the owner of Atticus and chief executive officer of Chabaso Bakery. “First and foremost, we're trying to get through the ingredients that we threw in our freezer, and the food that would otherwise get wasted. Then we’re going to add items [to the menu]. Our chef, Matt, is pretty excited.”
The idea behind Atticus Market has been both weeks and months in the making. Before COVID-19 closures hit New Haven in mid-March, Atticus had announced future plans to open a retail bakery in East Rock, where Romeo & Cesare’s stood until last December. The project, which also included plans to work with startup food ventures, was slated for later this year.
Then a wave of closures started. Initially, the Chapel Street haunt said it would be staying open for take out only. Over the weekend between school closures and state-mandated restaurant closures, Atticus’ core team worked out a tentative system and take-out menu centered around customer and employee safety. The business sent out an appeal to customers to purchase gift cards that would help pay staff as sales plummeted.
But by March 17, “all the data we were seeing is that people should be at home as much as possible,” Negaro recalled. “We just felt that the thing to do was to pause.”
He laid off the store’s 50-person staff, with the assurance that Atticus would pay health care premiums through at least the end of April. While he has since applied for federal relief through the U.S. Small Business Administration, it is still weeks away (“payroll protection is awesome, but it's like four weeks away,” he said).
Atticus Market, which officially opened Tuesday, has allowed him to hire back four staff members. Menu items include Atticus favorites, like fresh bread packed with local grains and the store’s signature hummus, as well as prepared dishes like bean and grain salad, baked macaroni and cheese, and roasted pork.
In its first week, the market fielded 80 orders in five days. It is rolling out sweets and pastries this week. Chabaso Bakery, which supplies grocery stores throughout the Northeast, has continued operations with existing, strict food safety protocols in place. As an existing supply of masks dwindles, he’s working with the team at MakeHaven to get cloth masks for his employees.
It’s a strange new normal, Negaro said. Around him, the footprint of COVID-19 has already altered the restaurant and small business economy forever, and will continue to for months. While small businesses close their doors, millions of Americans have moved to online ordering. He doesn’t think all of them are likely to go back to dining out when the CDC lifts restrictions.
“It's okay for this experience to radicalize all of us,” he said. “I think the way we used to define normal was not having healthcare for everyone, not taking care of the people in our society. There has to be some kind of safety net for everybody.”
Atticus Market is open for pickup Tuesday through Saturday. Customers can place orders here.