Q & A from the Field: Sara Mae Zandi & Sohial Zandi

[vc_row el_class=”max1100″][vc_column width=”1/2″][vc_images_carousel images=”9183,9184,9185,9186″ img_size=”345×345″ onclick=”link_no” el_class=”mobile”][vc_single_image image=”9183″ img_size=”” add_caption=”yes” el_class=”mobileout”][vc_single_image image=”9184″ img_size=”” add_caption=”yes” el_class=”mobileout”][vc_single_image image=”9185″ img_size=”” add_caption=”yes” el_class=”mobileout”][vc_single_image image=”9186″ img_size=”” add_caption=”yes” el_class=”mobileout”][/vc_column][vc_column width=”1/2″][vc_empty_space height=”40px” el_class=”mobileout”][vc_column_text]

Valley Rock Inn

Sloatsburg, New York[/vc_column_text][vc_column_text css=”.vc_custom_1587623896785{margin-top: 25px !important;margin-bottom: 15px !important;}”]Proprietor: Michael Bruno
Hotel • Restaurant • Market[/vc_column_text][vc_empty_space height=”20px” el_class=”mobileout”][vc_column_text]Are you open for business?

Not In the way we used to be, no. Our hours were Wednesday- Sunday, 5:30-10 pm and because of the pandemic, we had to end dinner service as we knew it. We’ve gotten creative though and are finding ways to feed people.

Have you pivoted your business since it became apparent things were about to drastically change? 

Our last shift was Sunday, March 15th. That week leading up to us closing indefinitely, was a strange one. We started making necessary adjustments to spread customers out, take tables away from the dining room floor, to be extra cautious with handling plates and glasses, sanitizing like crazy, but then it was like ‘even this doesn’t feel like enough.’ The day after we decided to close, the government made it clear we had to, anyway. It only took a few days of being in quarantine and not having our regular routine though, to hatch a plan for something else.

Sohail and I wanted a way to support our staff, who we had to ‘let go’ – even though we are a tiny, tight-knit crew and all of our employees are hanging tight nearby, hoping to come back to work here. We also knew that people were here and hungry, and we wanted to feed them – so we combined the two desires. BBQ Thursday was born! We suggested a donation of $20 per plate, and put pulled pork, stewed beans, Mac & cheese and yams out on the steps in bags, for folks to come by and pick up – safely and quickly. It gained a following quickly and now, we have people signing up for three Thursday’s from now. I guess we aren’t stopping anytime soon.

Do you have any suggestions from what you have learned so far during the pandemic days to share with other business owners? 

To step away from your sadness, fears, confusion and frustration, and try to see the bright side of things. For us, it’s spending more time together (quality time, not running around, working time) it’s getting to projects around the house, it’s getting great at smoking meats on the green egg and for hatching little side hustles that we never had the bandwidth for, before. This may sound like we see this whole thing through rose colored glasses, but if we don’t spin it as something we can work with – not against – we would implode.

How have you managed your staff during they period of time?

It was clear after a few days that we all had to go home, and stay home. Telling our employees – people who mean so much to us and have been very loyal – that we couldn’t pay them anymore, was gut wrenching. That’s why BBQ was first a solution for fundraising, so we could get each employee a check that would hopefully cover atleast a months worth of payroll. Our Hope was that it would feel, even for a little while, like they were still earning their regular wage. They are our friends, or even more so like family, so we all still talk and commiserate about how strange this all is.

Who were your customers before the crisis and who are they now, are they different? 

They’ve largely stayed the same, our customers. Second home owners, who made up the bulk of our dining room on any given night, are also the ones who are hunkered down up here right now. We are grateful for everyone who shows up for BBQ, and that includes our regulars but also people driving from Hudson, even the city, because they need a change of scenery.

Are you doing anything right now just for you?

We’ve been trying to take Pilates or yoga, via Instagram live. It’s been fun to have time in the day to stop and say, ‘what should we do now? Take the dogs for a walk, exercise?’ Our lives were so hectic before that we woke up and went to bed without a moment in between just to ourselves.

What in your day would you want to take with you into the future when this is all over?

Slow mornings with a big French press of coffee and pancakes.

How has this crisis changed your business? Do you see this as a temporary solution or is this new way of operating going to now be a staple people should expect after this crisis is over?

That’s hard to say. We are enjoying ourselves and this new routine as much as we can, and appreciate how much slower our days feel  – I definitely think Sohail tapped into a real passion with smoking pork and making amazing southern food, and we joke that we should have a smoke shack, but I do think when we can open Brushland again that will need to become the focus. Ordering food, prepping, cleaning, getting staff back – all of that will take a lot of energy and time. It depends how long this quarantine lasts and what our customers need, when we can get back to ‘normal’.

Community is very important to all small businesses— how has your community played a part in your businesses during these times?

Our community has been everything. We say to each other on a daily basis that we got really lucky with our customers and friends. They are so down for whatever we mastermind, and they trust us through all of this. Even if they can’t make it to BBQ, some of our regulars will donate anyhow. We get such kind gifts left on the steps after BBQ, like cookies and wine and love notes. We feel supported by their excitement and rejuvenated by their appreciation.

What has been the hardest part of this journey thus far?

The unknown.  Like I mentioned, we are resourceful and we can rearrange our schedule – making lemonade from the lemons – but not having an end date or a timeframe is a little unnerving. If we knew how long we were in for, we’d feel even less anxiety I think.

What is your outlook on the economy and the important upcoming summer months for upstate businesses?

Realistically, I think we will have to wait this out for another few months (or not longer). We don’t want to contribute, in any little way, to perpetuating the spread of COVID. While I do feel safer up here in the mountains, with the ability to social distance easily and enjoy the fresh air, there’s still a real threat in everyone letting their guards down. I hope there can be some normalcy, some joy that comes from the wildflowers and pond swimming and freedom of summer upstate, but we will have to wait a bit longer to know.

Did you apply for PPP?

We did, and a handful of other SBA loans. Unfortunately, we didn’t get any assistance in the first round of funding but we are hopeful that there is still money available for us small businesses. You certainly have to fight and kick and yell to be seen as a little mom & pop shop in the Catskills, but we are good at all of that and won’t stop until we have gotten help.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]