Beppe De Vito on Leading Illido Group into the New Normal
The coronavirus pandemic is every chef-restaurateur’s worst nightmare, as the virus goes against every fibre of what dining out is all about: socialising with friends over delicious food and drinks in, oftentimes, packed restaurants.
Now, imagine you were Beppe De Vito, the chef-restaurateur of F&B brand IlLido Group that now has seven concepts under its belt—Amò, Art, Braci, Carne, Gemma Steakhouse, Levant and Southbridge—and over 100 employees. How do you think you would survive these challenging times?
When the Covid-19 pandemic struck last year and restaurants had to shutter for two months, De Vito admits to Tatler Dining that they had to “recalibrate the ways we operated our venues”. Thus, he was one of the first ones on the island to launch a virtual restaurant, Grammi, offering hearty Italian-Mediterranean dishes inspired by his childhood in Italy at extremely reasonable prices. At the same time, he and his team kickstarted island-wide delivery services of other established concepts—fine-casual pizza joint Amo and one-Michelin-starred fine-dining outfit Braci.
“Amò was the most natural service suited for deliveries, with Italian comfort food such as pizzas and pasta…the response has been really positive,” shares De Vito, adding that deliveries have been steady even after the circuit breaker. Of course, it was expected that gourmands hunkering down at home would miss the fine dining experience, and that was where Braci a Casa came in. “We created a delivery and takeaway menu so guests could recreate the Braci experience at home as much as possible.”
With the pandemic raging on around the world, De Vito would then launch new concepts—including Gemma Steakhouse during Phase 2 and burger joint Carne early this year, in collaboration with Mauro Colagreco. “We applied what we learned last year to the way we operate,” he says, adding that comfort food for delivery and takeaway was what people turned to more frequently. That said, he decided to put Grammi on hiatus as it was operating in the kitchen at National Gallery Singapore that has been taken over by the steakhouse.
As the whole F&B continues to navigate these trying times with no clear end in sight, De Vito is hopeful that diners will continue to seek out new and interesting experiences—albeit, in an F&B landscape that has dramatically changed due to Covid-19. With that, he shares his insights on leading Illido Group into the ‘new normal’ and taking advantage of the opportunities it has brought about.
How did you make the most of the virtual space during the pandemic?
Beppe De Vito (BDV) I deep dived into the world of cloud kitchens last year, researching this whole new business model and understanding digitisation in the F&B industry.
What unexpected opportunities arose from it?
BDV Carne. The idea of collaborating with Mauro Colagreco for Carne came to us organically as we were looking at various opportunities to break through from the pandemic. It was part of a cloud kitchen roadmap we were exploring, and we spoke with Mauro and his team, and the rest is history.
How did the pandemic impact your cooking and eating habits?
BDV The pandemic has spotlighted the importance of soul food, and we weave that into each of our restaurants and bars, even at our fine dining concepts. At Art where it’s all about neo-Italian fine dining, for example, you’ll still taste authenticity. The bar food menu at our newest rooftop bar Levant that opened earlier this year is very much influenced by the Mediterranean and Levantine regions where food is healthy and moreish.
What did you learn about yourself during these challenging times?
BDV I read a lot, more than I usually do. I was reading about new business management models, strategies and more, ways to progress in the new norm. As the independent owner of seven F&B concepts, it’s important to be decisive and provide directions for my employees fast so we can keep moving, but I’ve also learnt the importance of stepping back.
How has the F&B industry in your region fared compared to elsewhere in the world?
BDV We are lucky to be in Singapore. It’s painful to put businesses on pause but it is necessary. Thankfully because the Government has been so organised with the way they have managed the pandemic, it has helped to reduce the duration of business hiatus—it didn’t drag on longer than it could as we see in other countries. We aren’t out of the woods yet, but all in all, the government has been very supportive and proactive with boosting business recovery.
How best do you think consumers/diners can support you and the F&B industry in the short term, and the longer term?
BDV Come dine with us. And being understanding goes a long way. We are hospitality people first, so we were trained from day one to be accommodating and to provide for our customers as best as we can. In this new norm where the onus is on the F&B staff to “police” Covid-19 rules like safe distancing, we are still not used to it. It would really help to support us here.
What do you think 2021 holds for F&B? And looking further into the future, how do you think restaurants and the experience of dining out will change as a result of the pandemic?
BDV It’s going to be a tight year. In the first half of the year we are seeing the plateau of “revenge dining”, so we F&B operators will really need to pull out all the stops to constantly be innovating and improving. It will take at least a couple of years before big events or corporate spending returns. In the meantime, there’ll be more openings of smaller restaurants, and more focus on chef-led private dining.