Napa Valley Bistro
“Like 100% of the people around the world, I was worried. But at the same time, I was grateful because we were still alive.”
Owning a restaurant during the Pandemic is not for the faint of heart. Perseverance and resilience are key ingredients. The Solano-Napa SBDC first began working with Napa Valley Bistro when the restaurant opened in 2013 and has continued to guide the business through the pandemic.
By Carolynne Gamble
Meet Chef Bernardo Ayala, co-owner of Napa Valley Bistro.
What are the greatest challenges faced this past year? “It was the unpredictability,” admitted Chef Bernardo. “We didn’t know if we were going to be open or closed. When we were open, we didn’t know what the rules would be. Things were continually changing, and it is difficult to maintain a rhythm with so many ups and downs.”
Consider that fine dining cuisine doesn’t work well for take out only. The fast food restaurants and the take-outs were thriving of course, but white tablecloth restaurants like NV Bistro were struggling.
“We had a whole crew working like a well-oiled machine, and then we had to close,” continued Chef Bernardo. “Everything broke down. All systems fell apart. Some employees changed careers and did not return, plus I was constantly worried about employees getting sick.”
Parklets to the rescue!
As it turns out, the outdoor parklet was the lifesaver, not only for the business, but also it saved jobs for the employees. The employees are like Chef. They would rather come to work than stay home and draw unemployment. They all preferred to work, produce and be happy.
“The parklet process was very complicated in the beginning,” reported Chef. There were many restrictions, but then a helpful Napa City employee guided him to develop a plan. So Chef drew up a design and hired Francisco Ramirez Construction to build it. Craig Smith with Downtown Association extended good advice as well.
“Our parklet looks so good,” reported Manager Clay Brandl. “We partnered with Pizza Azzurro, and built adjacent to each other. It was cheaper to build one large parklet, rather than have separate designs.”
Will the parklets remain? Customers love dining outside! There is tremendous local and tourist support, plus the restaurants love it. “We hope to keep it because time and money were invested, and customers say they want them to stay,” reported Chef.
What did not change was their commitment to sustainability.
The restaurant opened in 2013 with a vision to focus on local wines, and serve fresh, sustainable, Napa Valley cuisine with Latino influence. The organic produce comes from small, local vendors: Lynne Rodgers Cherish Market Gardens and Cindy Skinner Gardens. The organic herbs come from Chef’s own garden.
Napa Valley Bistro will soon roll out their own Napa Valley Cabernet house wine, produced by Bazan Cellars, with Chef Bernardo participating in the special blending process.
The wine list is another reason for their success. All the wines are local, and many come from Latino producers. Napa Valley Bistro is a small family owned restaurant and thus they highlight small family owned wineries. Wines by the glass are rotated because there are so many choices, and this provides a platform for emerging vintners to showcase their wine.
“We keep it fresh and fun for all the locals,” reported Manager Clay Brandl. “The wine list is just like the menu. We focus on local and sustainable. You can enjoy Tuscan style wine made in California. You will find a Burgundy style Pinot Noir made in California, with a more tannic, earthly style.”
Working with the Napa-Sonoma Small Business Development Center was crucial in those early days. Former Business Advisor Charlie Monahan helped with all the profit and loss projections, and current Business Advisor, Carolynne Gamble helped the business learn social media. “The P&L’s were the nuts and bolts for opening the restaurant,” commented Chef Bernardo. “This was key.”
For information about Napa Valley Bistro, Chef Bernardo and the loyal, efficient, and dedicated staff, visit https://www.napavalleybistro.com/