Life turned upside down. The coronavirus outbreak has had a devastating impact on our nation and has affected the people of Staten Island in countless ways. In this series, journalist Tracey Porpora will share the stories of those who were plunged into unimaginable situations just a few months ago, those who have seen their lives completely turned upside down. This is the thirtieth story of “Life turned upside down.“
STATEN ISLAND, NY – After being in the restaurant business for much of his adult life, Adrian Lakja, 42, from Albania who immigrated to America from Europe, has finally achieved his dream of owning his own restaurant in December 2018 when it opened. Trattoria Toscana in Great Kills.
âI worked in catering all over Europe before coming here. I left Albania at the age of 20 and moved to England … But New York has always been my ultimate destination, âsaid the New Dorp Beach resident, noting that he had moved in here in 2001.
After 17 years of working at different restaurants in Manhattan and Staten Island, the day has come when he reunites with his cousin, Jimmy Lakja – also a wine sommelier – and another partner, Ergys Kopshti, who is the chef, and opened Trattoria Toscana on Hylan Boulevard.
âI’ve always dreamed of opening an Italian restaurant because it’s the food I know,â he said of the restaurant, known for its great food and atmosphere that often includes live music. – and an even more lively crowd.
Because of this, Lakja and his partners over the past two years have developed a loyal following of foodies from Staten Island and beyond, who have come to love his eclectic pasta, seafood and meat dishes.
But he never thought that a global pandemic would shut down his business and attempt to undo everything he and his partners have built over the past two years.
âWe were doing extremely well until March 17.â¦ We had booked a lot of parties in our party room,â Lakja said. âWe were so busy, there were people lining up to get in. “
Immediately after the coronavirus (COVID-19) shutdown in March, Lakja tried to stay open for pickup and delivery, but said it “just doesn’t work to be open.”
âWe closed from March until a few days before Mother’s Day,â he said. âThen we did pickups and deliveries, and then in July we opened for outdoor dining. “
Business increased over the summer after Lakja built a patio and set up several tents for alfresco dining. While there was a silver lining when the indoor dining room was restored to 25% capacity in the fall, the indoor dining room’s second closure in November really dealt a devastating blow to its business, he said.
âWhen we were open with 25% inside, everything was fine. But now I don’t know, âhe added.
‘NOT GOING TO GIVE UP’
Regardless, Lakja said he maintains a positive attitude.
âI’m going to do my best to survive, and I’m not going to give up – that’s my promise to my clients,â he said. âI have to pay the rent for the restaurant and the mortgage on my house. I’m going through hell right now.
But Lakja said he was going to âhold onâ as long as he could.
âI know when it’s over we’ll be busy again and have what we had before,â he said.
Although he received government loans Paycheque Protection Program, he said “it’s all gone now.”
“I used the money to build the tent [for outdoor dining] and for pay, âhe said. âIt lasts almost a year. “
ROBUST FOR THE EXTERIOR SERVICE
Lakja said it is difficult to serve outside when it is very hot in the summer, and that winter obviously presents climatic challenges for dining outside as well. It has around 10 tables available for outdoor dining, but that’s nothing compared to the 120 seats inside the restaurant.
The restaurant was also known for a large crowd of bars, and since COVID-19 warrants ban walk-in bar service, it lost that business as well.
âI’m grateful to the customers who still come to eat out and those who order for pickup and delivery,â he said.
OPEN FOR WORKERS
âI remain open mainly for workers,â said Lakja, who noted that two of his employees succumbed to the virus at the start of the pandemic.
While some of his workers chose to work in other industries, he at least provided part-time jobs for those who wanted to stay, Lakja said.
âI can’t pay all the staff like we’re totally open. I try to keep them running, so that they don’t work six days a week, but maybe four, depending on the crowd, so that they can also pay their bills. I have a good team and I really don’t want to lose workers, âhe said.
OTHER LIFE STORIES PAID: