This is a story about courage and resolve. It is also a story about a random act of kindness that will give you hope that it just might be a better world on the other side of the pandemic.
On a dreary April 1, I walked over to downtown Louisville and began taking photos of the abandoned streets. After a few minutes, a man approached me on Main Street and asked what I was doing. He introduced himself as Matt Mulkey, the General Manager of Zucca Italian Ristorante. I asked Matt if I could take his photo and he agreed. Looking through the lens you could see the pain, the uncertainty and even the fear. But more than anything on Matt’s face, you could see courage and resolve. The photo you see is what started this whole project. Matt’s face revealed what all owners of small businesses are going through. Not just in Louisville, but everywhere. “Tough times show us who we really are,” said Matt as he turned and walked back toward Zucca.
We’ve all hear the saying “Necessity is the mother of invention.” The old English proverb could have been written about Zucca. Since the virus hit, Zucca has streamlined its menu, instituted a rigid cleaning and sanitation policy, and beefed up its online presence. More importantly, Zucca has added delivery services like Doordash to their delightful menu.
If you are not familiar with Zucca, you should be. The restaurant, with its charming Mediterranean facade, serves some of the best, most authentic Italian food in the Denver area. Fried Calamari, Chicken Parmesan and Butternut Ravioli are just some of the delectable items on their menu. All are served within the charming backdrop that will make you feel like you have been transported to the streets of Rome.
Zucca is owned by Three Leaf Concepts, a Boulder County based business that owns five restaurants in the area (including The Huckleberry). Only Zucca has remained open. It was done so through sheer willpower. “I really wanted to open Zucca,” Matt said. “We had a surplus of food that I did not want to see go to waste.” Next was figuring out how to turn fine dining into carry out dining. Matt and the Zucca team quickly figured out how to coordinate home delivery through Grubhub, Doordash and Uber Eats. Finally, Matt and other managers had agreed to taking a paycut. He found staff willing to work at a reduced rate.
Thus far, the response has been unbelievable. On April 17, Zucca broke its coronavirus era sales record. The next night, they broke the record again. No, the carry out revenue does not come close to matching money made before the virus. But through hard work and sheer willpower, Zucca is surviving to live another day.
Watching Matt is a study of perpetual motion. He has worn a path from Zucca’s kitchen to curbside pickup. His reward is a pleasant smile and sincere ‘thank you.’ Customers undoubtedly sense the Herculean effort undertaken to keep the Zucca machine humming. Some even leave ‘thank you’ notes.
If Matt and the Zucca team had any question about the decision to keep Zucca open, it was answered on April 3. Matt had just delivered a pan of lasagna and two cannoli to a waiting customer. It wasn’t until later that evening that Matt noticed the gratuity on the credit card receipt. “I looked closer and thought to myself: ‘You gotta be kidding me”’ For a $54.32 order, the tip was a jaw dropping $500.00!!! “It was amazing,” beamed Matt.
Remember the staff all agreeing to work at a reduced rate? Well, the Zucca team shares the tips. That $500 tip increased everyone’s wage by $2 an hour for the pay period. For the Zucca staff, this kind act has brought new meaning to the word ‘gratuity.’ Matt and team will be eternally grateful to this man for helping Zucca employees at a time when they needed it most.
These random acts of kindness are the fuel that keeps the Zucca team’s motor running. These acts also give the rest of us ‘hope,’ that the pain and suffering caused by this terrible pandemic are changing us all — for the better.
The $500 gift left to a group of people he does not even know, is yet another example of how our community appreciates the efforts of our small businesses. Restaurants like Zucca are on the economic frontlines of this terrible scourge. For us to emerge stronger from this pandemic, we need them to survive — and thrive. What we are witnessing from Zucca and small businesses in downtown Louisville is nothing short of heroic.
Matt Mulkey was right. Tough times do indeed show who we really are.
Tonight, treat yourself to carry out dinner from Zucca. And please don’t forget to support ALL of our downtown Louisville businesses.
ZUCCA ITALIAN RISTORANTE
808 Main St.