Restaurants Surviving & Adapting in the Pandemic: Motorino
Part three of a series that explores how restaurants are surviving and thriving in the COVID-19 pandemic.
As we’ve spoken with restaurateurs across the country to share their experiences during the pandemic, we’ve come across very different types of businesses. First, we caught up with Joseph Badaro, who opened his first restaurant, Hummus Labs, in the second month of the pandemic. Now, we’re showcasing Mathieu Palombino of Motorino, a multi-location pizzeria that first set up shop around the start of another global crisis: the Great Recession.
After opening in 2008, Motorino has gone from one location in Brooklyn serving the best pizza in the city to well over a dozen storefronts across New York City, Dubai, Singapore, Hong Kong, and beyond. In the beginning of March 2020, their three New York locations launched their own branded online ordering with ChowNow. Since then, they’ve served 3,857 online orders to 2,475 guests. They’ve also received a boost in new customers, with 20% of their sales coming through the ChowNow Marketplace. Here’s what Palombino had to say about his experiences.
This interview has been condensed and edited.
Motorino signed up with ChowNow in the beginning of 2020. Why did you decide to work with us?
I actually came to ChowNow because I was looking to have my own personal online ordering platform. It really is the closest thing to having your own platform. It’s the best channel for us because the fee structure is something we can really work with.
We feel like we’re getting a good deal, especially in comparison with big players like Grubhub and Seamless. Working with those companies, I feel like I have my arm twisted in my back at all times. In contrast, ChowNow helps me out on a daily basis with every order.
When the pandemic started, how did you adjust your operations?
I took some drastic measures. First, I cut down on our business hours. We’re usually open from 11 AM to 11 PM, but I skipped the lunch service right away and I decided to open the restaurant at 4 PM. Eighty percent of our business happens between 4 PM and 10 PM anyway, so we just kept those hours.
I was able to actually keep everybody on staff. We made a huge, massive change in schedules because there were some folks that wanted to stay at home and some folks that wanted to continue to work. There were definitely fewer hours for everyone, but everybody was employed.
The kitchen staff has been with me for a long time—some of them since day one—and we have a strong sense of trust. I have a responsibility to everyone at Motorino, but especially the old timers that may not recover from a change in their jobs. So, we worked it out, and that’s what counts.
Did you make any changes to your menu?
Absolutely. I looked at the appetizer section and I took off all my favorite appetizers, which were the time consuming ones. I just kept the pillars of the appetizer menu: the meatballs, the artichokes, the Caesar salad. I kept the best sellers, and I let go of the fancy stuff that we were doing.
What does success look like for you now?
I think success is being able to come out on the other side of this. Before things go back to normal, that’s my definition of success at this time. For me, things are alright right now, but for other restaurateurs, this is critical. I feel blessed that Motorino has such a big delivery business. I would not be here talking to you if it wasn’t for delivery.
How have your customer interactions been during the pandemic?
At the beginning of the pandemic, a lot of folks were thankful that we were open. Many other restaurants in the neighborhood had been doing well before the pandemic, but delivery hadn’t been one of their main streams of revenue. They weren’t going to stay open just for takeout. So pretty much everyone closed.
With Motorino, we offer a great experience when you come to the restaurant. It’s quick, fun, and cheap. At the same time, we’ve had a lot of longtime customers in this neighborhood who never come to the restaurant. They just order delivery. We’re a part of a lot of folks’ routines for food delivery and have been well before the pandemic.
Motorino’s website features a pop-up to educate visitors about the impact of third-party marketplaces’ commissions and the importance of ordering direct.
With delivery being so critical for Motorino, how do you navigate the big third-party apps?
There’s no easy way out of those relationships because New Yorkers see these companies as their number one platform for ordering online. They’re not really thinking through to see if really it’s a good company.
The angle is that if you don’t like it, then don’t be here. You can just sign off, but then you’ll fall off the map. ChowNow is great because we actually can work together, and it’s possible for us to function. That’s why we supply as much information as we can to make people aware.
When an order comes through on ChowNow, I’m happy. I’m a little upset every time an order comes through Grubhub. I’m always saying to myself, I really wish these folks would have ordered through ChowNow. That’s why I put so much effort into promoting you guys myself. We tell our customers: Please order through ChowNow. It’s so much better for us.
Discover More Client Stories
In addition to our blog posts about Motorino’s and Hummus Labs’ experiences during the pandemic, check out these ChowNow case studies.