Q & A from the Field

Mike Cioffi

Phoenicia Diner (Kingston, NY)

When did you open the Diner, tell us a little bit about your journey?

Mike and his family have had a second home in Margaretville for about 20 years. The diner sits on the route they take to get to their place. Mike always admired the building and was inspired by it, often thinking of it’s potential. What started as just a stop in to check it out ending in him stepping into the restaurant business.

Tell us about Phoenicia and where you are located?

Phoenicia is a small hamlet in the Catskills. By small, I mean the main street is only a few blocks long. Those few blocks are filled with wonderful and unique local businesses. We are located just about a mile southeast of the center of town right across the street from the Esopus Creek with some of the best trout fishing around.

Have you pivoted your business during this pandemic? How have you pivoted?

The day before the announcement was made that we would have to close our dining rooms, we had a pretty serious discussion about how we should plan to stay open going forward and decided that we wouldn’t offer indoor seating anymore. We closed down for a day to get ready to reopen for take-out. I updated our website and POS system for online ordering and we sat down with our menu and started making necessary changes to offer more easy to eat on the go options. Take-out is a whole different game. You have to think about food sitting in a box for 15-30 minutes before it gets eaten and what might happen to the food in that time.

What has been the hardest struggle about this pandemic?
The unknown and just having to accept that you don’t have all of the answers. There is so much information coming from everywhere. By the second week I just had to make myself stop reading the news. Now, I watch townhalls, Cuomo’s briefings, look at our local statistic dashboard, and read industry related articles.

What have you been cooking a lot lately?

I wish. I’ve been working later and cooking less. Luckily my husband has been wonderful in picking up the slack.

Have your customers changed at all during this Pandemic?

Yes, of course. Mostly good change. Everyone has been so outwardly thankful towards us. It’s been really touching.

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

Man, they get all the gold stars. Our local County Executive put together Project Resilience which partnered with restaurants to feed the community almost instantly. They paid restaurants $10 a meal and orders could be for 250+ people.
This income, I have no doubt, was the push some businesses needed to weather the storm. We were part of the project and I cannot express enough how much it helped us and how gratifying it was to be a part of.

The local Chamber of Commerce set up a Facebook page called ‘Ulster Eateries United’ where restaurants could post their menus and daily specials. They already have 10k followers. At the Diner, and especially, our new place, Dixon Roadside, we have had so many new customers that had never heard of us until that page.

We have been floored by the support of our community

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