Winnipeg radio personality’s new restaurant faces challenges due to coronavirus

Frankie's Italian Kitchen and Bar has, like many other bars and restaurants in Manitoba, been forced to change its operations due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Instagram / Joe Aiello

An iconic voice on Winnipeg radio finally realized his lifelong dream of opening a restaurant earlier this year, only to have the city — and the world — hit by the new coronavirus pandemic just a few months later.

Power 97’s Joe Aiello, a staple of local rock radio for decades, told 680 CJOB that Frankie’s Italian Kitchen and Bar, which he opened in January with his cousin Raf, is facing the same struggles as the rest of Manitoba’s restaurants in light of COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus.

Aiello, who insists his cousin — who has opened Frankie’s locations in British Columbia as well — is the real restaurateur in the family, said the most frustrating part of the current global health crisis is the uncertainty, especially for staff.

“It’s a hard business. You put in a lot of hours,” he said.

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“There’s a lot of kids out there who are living on their own already, and this is their only income. It’s pretty tough. I couldn’t imagine what they’re going through.

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“I think there’s a lot of people that are just kind of scared about the unknown, about how long this will actually go on, what can they do in the meantime because it’s out of our control.”

Aiello said the dream of owning a restaurant is something he and Raf have been talking about since their high school days, and since they’ve only been open for two months, he hasn’t really had the opportunity to fully process what the current landscape will mean for the fledgling business.

“We’ve only been open for two months, so I guess it depends on what the government is going to do action-wise,” he said.

“I haven’t really thought that far ahead, to be honest. I just try and stay as proactive as possible. I’m going week by week.”

Frankie’s, he said, is going to a third-party delivery model starting on the weekend, which is in line with recommendations from the Manitoba Restaurant and Foodservices Association (MRFA). The MRFA said Wednesday that it’s encouraging restaurant patrons to order out rather than eat in.

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The association is also encouraging the small percentage of restaurants that are staying open to adopt stringent sanitization measures and social-distancing policies.

“We feel all restaurants must take all the necessary steps to ensure our patrons and staff are safe,” said Tony Siwicki, owner of Silver Heights Restaurant and chairman of the MRFA board of directors.

“(We) hope our valued customers can continue to support us with other means of patronage.”

Aiello said he hopes there will be some more concrete information soon about when things will get back to a sense of normalcy.

“I think people are just getting talked out,” he said.

“It’s just in your head all day, and there’s nothing really going on… it’s tough when you don’t have that social interaction or a game to go to or a movie.”

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Be well and stay safe

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Economic impact on Manitoba restaurants

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