As we all know, the pandemic and related quarantine measures created incredibly difficult conditions for businesses both big and small, and in particular, restaurants that previously thrived on in-person dining experiences had to find ways to keep the lights on while adhering to official guidelines.
Marine Ploquin is the Operations Manager for the Los Angeles location of Petrossian, a luxury restaurant and boutique known for its caviar.
Guests had come to expect in-person dining excellence at Petrossian, something that was no longer possible when all restaurants had been ordered to cease dining room and patio service.
The stories we’d like to share with you today, courtesy of Ploquin, are all about how Petrossian was able to not only survive but thrive in these difficult circumstances.
We spoke to Ploquin, who has years of experience in luxury hospitality, and who has been working with Petrossian since 2018.
If we’ve learned anything from this interview, it’s that Ploquin is more than willing to go above and beyond to apply her expertise to generate positive results for the companies she works with, and that was certainly the case in December of 2020, when Ploquin went to great lengths to keep Petrossian New York running when no one else could.
What was the luxury dining landscape like during the height of the pandemic? What were some of the changes Petrossian made during this time?
Ploquin: During the height of the pandemic, luxury dining was very different. Depending on the country or state, regulations were different. In California, we were not allowed to serve any food inside or outside. Luckily, the business also had its retail side. So at first, we focused on retail items like caviar and smoked fish, but soon realized that people in the neighborhood did not feel safe going to the supermarket.
So we addressed this by also selling cherry tomatoes, pints of sugar, flour, butter, and eggs. It was a way to help out our neighborhood and also help our business survive.
Then we started offering packaged dinners for two that people could heat up at home. We tried to maintain our luxury standards, and we also tried to make the packaging, labels, and instructions reflect luxury and high standards.
Tell us about your work with Petrossian in December of 2020.
Ploquin: During December 2020, the Petrossian boutique in New York went through a difficult time, with many employees testing positive for COVID. It had to be shut down.
But December is the most important month for the company. It’s the biggest month, thanks to celebrations and gifting. No one from New York could enter the building, due to the current regulations. The only option was to hire someone from the outside. When I heard about that, I took a night to think, and I decided it would be good for me, my career, and the company to run the show in New York.
So the next day I told my boss I would go. He booked me on the first red-eye flight. I got tested and packed all the sanitizing products I could find. In New York, someone handed me the keys to the building and quickly explained where things were located. And from that point on, I was running the entire Petrossian boutique in New York by myself.
It was definitely a stressful time, and it was also a strange time to be in New York, seeing the streets empty. But I was also proud of myself for taking the risk and keeping Petrossian on its feet when the staff simply wasn’t allowed to come in.
Two weeks later, I was back in LA, setting up a special to-go menu for Christmas and New Year’s. Customers were eager to buy good food, and we even sold out of certain products. I’m so glad that we kept the doors open, both in New York and LA, to satisfy our customers.
That’s an impressive amount of work. Across New York and LA, were there certain compromises you had to make during this time?
Ploquin: During that time we had to make some compromises. A part of luxury dining is the service, and typically, during the month of December, we would offer free caviar and champagne tastings, which of course we couldn’t offer that year.
We also only had takeout, so we had to come up with a proper menu for guests who would usually spend Christmas and New Year’s with us. And of course, we had to constantly adapt to regulations and find ways to please our guests.
What was the end result? How did the restaurant fare during this period?
Ploquin: We were fortunate that the brand had been around for many years and that we have loyal customers. We decided to only keep three managers and the chef, which really reduced costs and allowed us to make it through. Our sales for caviar were actually great. It was one of our best years, even though the restaurant only generated minimal revenue.
How long did it take for the restaurant and its staff to return to their full strength?
Ploquin: COVID changed how we operate. We used to open for dinner and lunch service. To this day, Petrossian is only open Thursday through Sunday, for lunch only. It helped us realize that it cost a great deal of money to operate at the luxury level seven days a week.
We decided to change customers’ mentalities, as well as allow staff to lead a more balanced life. So we focused on a small menu for lunch with all signature items and decided to push boutique sales as much as possible, as it requires way less staff than running a full restaurant.
Have you made changes that would help prevent a similar situation in the future?
Ploquin: We changed the model of the business a bit. Unfortunately, there is not much a restaurant can do if the government tells it to shut down.
Now that we’ve been through this situation, we would know how to respond if something similar were to happen again. It’s important for us to keep the doors open, even if only to sell some salads and to-go items.
Looking back on all this, were there any lessons you took away from this experience?
Ploquin: I learned that the best thing is always to be creative and never give up. Adapt to the situation, constantly follow the news with updates, and just try to do the best you can. In times like these, it’s worth trying new ideas and seeing what works.