Rayme Rossello, owner of Mexican eatery Comida in Aurora, Colorado, has just lived through one of the toughest years the restaurant industry has ever seen. As she begins to see the light at the end of the tunnel, she reflects on how struggles turned into strength for her and her whole team. Here’s how one restaurateur used these challenges to rethink her identity as a businesswoman and the importance of that elusive work-life balance.
How has the pandemic changed you?
I’ve become a better businesswoman, with more heart and more intelligence. It’s made us better and more cohesive as a team. The challenges have allowed us to take care of each other. I’ve become more present as a boss.
How has it affected your attitude toward work-life balance?
When things got bad last spring, I gave my salaried staff 3 weeks off and paid full salaries. It put the idea of work-life balance into perspective.
In the past, there was an expectation that we’d all work 50 to 60 hours a week. Over the years I have dialed that back to closer to 40 to 50 hours a week. Now, we’re moving toward 40 hours a week consistently. I would rather have the people who have my back, our guests’ back, and the whole staff’s back feeling healthy. I don’t want people to be exhausted or have them stressed because they can’t get home to walk their dog. People need time to go outside and take a walk.
And I’m down with this way of life now! It’s really nice to have two days off a week. It becomes hard to take away once you have it. I said to my team, even as we get busier, we need to be smarter about what we are doing so we can continue to focus on work-life balance.
How has this changed how you feel about your guests?
I love our guests, and 99% are phenomenal. OpenTable diners in particular love to make reservations for lunch and dinner, and this really helps be able to plan. Then there’s that other 1%. The Yelpers. The entitled guest. The one that is always complaining. After all this, I feel like I can say to those guests, “We are doing the best we can.” I need to protect my staff and their morale. My attitude now toward that 1% is: “If this isn’t working, you don’t need to dine here. No hard feelings, but I can’t meet your needs.”
How has takeout become a part of your business?
Takeout has become so important. We’ve gotten very creative with our menu and that’s been fun. As a result, we have increased our takeout business by 95%. It’s been a very good thing. I think people really appreciate new additions like all the family-style to-go stuff that came out of the pandemic. I think those kinds of things will stick around. And I hope to God the to-go liquor program is always around!
Has the pandemic changed your restaurant’s sense of identity?
It’s made me realize we don’t need to fit into a box. We can be more than a restaurant. We can serve things that translate to offsite catering at our food truck. We can try new things. This has made us so much smarter.
Are there any silver linings to all the closures?
I know a lot of great restaurants went out of business. There’s something awesome about learning to thrive in adversity, growing something out of concrete. That’s what we have done. Vacancies will also leave a lot of spaces for people to come back and do cool new stuff.