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Matt and Jeni Smith didn’t want to take any chances at their restaurant, Rosati’s Pizza and Sports Pub, during the novel coronavirus pandemic, so the owners ordered staff to stay home if they detected even a hint of illness.
Every time, Matt or Jeni called home for back-up.
“There were a lot of times we had to call in a kid and say, ‘I know you’re not supposed to work today, but can you come in?’” Jeni said.
The pandemic has tested the restaurant industry, which has seen swift changes to service methods, mass layoffs and dozens of closures around Georgia.
Rosati’s has felt the impact, too, but the last month has also reminded Matt and Jeni of their business’s most important ingredient: family.
The husband-wife team has relied on their five kids to pitch in more than ever. The two oldest, Wade and C.J., make deliveries. Eli is a “jack of all trades” around the restaurant. Their daughter Audrey, who just graduated from high school, is a hostess. Eighth-grader Jake just recently started helping with food prep.
“He learned how to grate the cheese and roll dough during the coronavirus,” Jeni said.
Matt and Jeni were motivated by family to open Rosati’s in the first place, particularly Matt, who regularly traveled for his corporate job and wanted to be around more as their kids grew up.
They opened Rosati’s in 2013, off Peachtree Parkway, bringing a dose of Jeni’s native Chicago-style deep-dish pizza, with a sports pub environment, to Forsyth County.
“We had probably 75 people lined up outside our first night,” Matt said, “just all Chicago people hugging us and crying saying they’re so happy they have Rosati’s down here now. We were really blown away from the reaction.”
As Matt and Jeni’s family grew, so did Rosati’s. They became a community staple, hosting live music and poker nights and fund-raising events for local civic groups or youth teams. Sports fans came to drink one of the 56 craft beers on tap and watch games on their projector screens, especially Chicago natives. They were packed when the Cubs made the World Series in 2016.
“Very fun,” Jeni said. “There were people who came every single night of the whole playoffs through every single game of the World Series.”
When the coronavirus pandemic hit, Rosati’s went silent. For about 30 days, the restaurant was limited to delivery and to-go service. No Cubs games. No live music. No poker nights. No youth teams getting pizza to celebrate a win.
“It was such a quiet place,” Jeanie said.
But the Rosati’s family, that loyal customer base, continued to support the restaurant.
“There are so many people that come in so regularly that we’re used to seeing,” Matt said. “They care about us, we care about our customers. They supported us so much.”
Meanwhile, Matt and Jeni tried to make the most of the time the dining area was closed. They gave the restaurant a deep clean, painted the walls, and added a third projector. They educated and trained staff on the dozens of new health guidelines for restaurants during the pandemic.
“Our staff has rallied together, too,” Jeni said. “We’ve had a lot of people help us.”
When Georgia allowed restaurants to reopen their dining areas, Rosati’s was ready.
“It was nice because a lot of our regular customers that would come in, they were the first ones to come back in and to start testing the waters,” Matt said.
Rosati’s has started to get its former buzz back. The restaurant recently resumed poker and trivia nights and held its first ticketed music event since the pandemic started. They’re hopeful that high school and professional sports will return in the fall to fill their tables with celebrating teams and rabid fans.
Regardless, the pandemic has helped Matt and Jeni appreciate the value of family even more — their one at home and the one at Rosati’s, too.
“I think we all came together during this time,” Jeni said. “It showed everybody’s true colors, which we like. It’s a good team.”