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Angelo’s Pizzeria closed for the first time in mid-March, a few days before Philly Mayor Jim Kenney ordered the shutdown of all nonessential businesses.
Under Pa. Gov. Tom Wolf’s regulations, restaurants got a special carve-out to continue delivery and pickup, but owner Danny DiGiampietro stayed closed. He wanted to play it safe.
“We closed way before everybody did, because our whole business is predicated on walking in and ordering,” DiGiampietro told Billy Penn. “I started getting nervous.”
The popular South Philly pizza shop, which has been featured by Action Bronson and Barstool Sports, reopened in late April after DiGiampietro had time to work out a new system he felt comfortable with. He even installed the store’s first-ever telephone line.
Then an employee tested positive for COVID-19 — and Angelo’s shut down again.
In a now-deleted Instagram post, DiGiampietro announced he would stay closed for 14 days. That also was not mandated, DiGiampietro confirmed to Billy Penn, and both customers and fellow restaurateurs hurled some hate his way for the decision.
However, “I knew in my gut the right thing to do was to shut it down,” he said.
There are no requirements that an establishment close for a full quarantine period if an employee is diagnosed with COVID-19, according to Dr. Palak Raval-Nelson, Philadelphia’s director of environmental health services.
All that’s required of a workplace where a positive case has been found is that they properly sanitize the area. Some supermarkets in Philly have reopened after a single day.
DiGiampietro wasn’t ready to do that. Throughout the pandemic, he’s taken operating out of “an abundance of caution” to the next level. Here’s how it all went down.
Retired cop as social distancing ‘bouncer’
When it came time to reopen for the first time, Angelo’s had:
- 50% less staff
- a bare-bones menu
- a new employee hired to answer the newly-installed phones
- gloves and masks for all staff while on site
- a social distancing bouncer
Yep, a bouncer. Realizing people might be waiting around for orders as his reduced staff worked to build custom sandwiches and sling customized pizzas, DiGiampietro decided he needed to enforce social distancing.
So he hired a friend who is a retired police officer to make sure his patrons maintained safe distance outside his 9th and Fitzwater storefront.
Hire made because of the virus…ends up contracting the virus
The new staffer DiGiampietro brought on to answer the phones ended up being the one who tested positive.
That person’s spouse worked at a hospital and found out their division had been exposed to the virus. The spouse tested positive, and the staffer called Angelo’s to notify DiGiampietro — who immediately took action.
“We shut it down the day we found out his spouse had it,” DiGiampietro said. “We found out that day, toward the end of service, and then that was it.”
The asymptomatic employee tested positive a day later.
“I was very nervous just because I didn’t want to get anybody sick,” DiGiampietro said, “but the only thing to do in my mind was to lay it out there. I thought the best thing to do was be honest about it and say ‘Hey, listen, somebody had it in here.’”
Going on a disinfection rampage
When a restaurant or grocery store staff member tests positive for COVID-19, the city health department employs a standard protocol that follows CDC guidelines, said Raval-Nelson, the environmental health services director:
- The restaurant should report the case to the city’s disease control division,
- The employee must be quarantined
- The space has to be sanitized
After those steps are taken, Raval-Nelson said, the joint can reopen.
Angelo’s, however, remained closed for 18 days. First, he had all 10 restaurant workers tested for the coronavirus. None were positive.
“It turns out the precautions that we took with the gloves and the masks worked because nobody else got it,” said DiGiampietro.
The workers then cleaned the restaurant top to bottom, and a crew came in to perform an antimicrobial disinfecting. That crew returns every Monday to sanitize Angelo’s while the restaurant is closed.
Dealing with internet hate for being cautious
For the two weeks of testing and sanitation, operations at Angelo’s completely ceased.
DiGiampietro did venture back into the kitchen alone once to try making strombolis. “It turned into an absolute nightmare…we kiboshed that,” he said.
One thing the pizzamaker did not expect: the online backlash. Other restaurant owners and loyal customers both messaged their disapproval after he announced the employee with COVID and the decision to close because of it.
“We caught a ton of heat for that,” DiGiampietro said. “There were people messaging me saying ‘Why did you say something? You didn’t even have to say nothing.’ No, no, no, no, no. The right thing to do is shut it down, make sure it’s safe, and then we go again.”
DiGiampietro said that with about 10 employees, a wife with a compromised immune system and a child with asthma, he’d rather be safe than sorry.
“And I’d do it again,” he added.
Passing inspection with flying colors
Whether its proprietors worried about what competitors are doing or just concerned citizens trying to help contain the outbreak, Philly hasn’t been shy about calling out violations of the shutdown mandate.
Since March 18, Raval-Nelson’s division in the city health department has received 877 complaints about potentially noncompliant businesses, she said.
None of those calls were for Angelo’s. Since it reopened, the shop has received at least two health department inspections, per DiGiampietro, and inspectors told him “everything’s fine.”
“They even laughed,” he said. “They’ve never seen a pizzeria with a bouncer.”