Two new leases signed amid pandemic
Patrick DePula and his team signed on for two new restaurants. Then COVID-19 hit.
While many restaurants are reluctantly closing for good, others are celebrating grand openings. Some places have opened specifically for takeout, a handful have been pop-ups and others offer classic restaurant experiences with safety precautions in mind.
Local staple Salvatore’s Tomato Pies opened a new location in Monona over the summer, and before that, founder Patrick DePula had opened DarkHorse by Sal’s with colleagues John Jerabek and Jed Spink just one month before COVID-19 shut down restaurants across the state.
As restrictions temporarily shuttered the doors of all three of DePula’s restaurants, decisions had to be made. Despite being the most expensive of DePula’s restaurants to run — as it will eventually serve as Sal’s flagship — DarkHorse wasn’t bringing in enough money to keep producing Sal’s EatStreet orders alongside the family-style meals unique to DarkHorse.
“We were trying to keep things interesting and at that point it was literally a question of whether we’d keep enough revenue coming in the door in order to keep the lights on,” DePula says. “At some point, [we knew] trying to continue to build a new brand in the midst of a global pandemic was counterproductive and not the best use of resources.”
And so DarkHorse rebranded to Salvatore’s Tomato Pies Livingston, although its unique menu remains with added pizza options. The Sal’s Monona location, which opened this June, also faced adaptations in order to open.
“We signed the lease before the pandemic hit with the intention of remodeling that restaurant into something pretty, pretty awesome for Monona,” DePula says. “But the pandemic kind of put the kibosh on those plans and we ended up just remodeling 300 square feet in the front of the restaurant in order to accommodate social distancing.”
DePula jokes that this new location looks like a funhouse, with its enter-and-exit-only doors, white walls and giant mural.
“It feels like we’re just constantly reacting and chasing, chasing enough revenue to survive by basically adapting over and over again, whenever something happens,” DePula says. “So, you know, we’re now starting another refocus on [carryout] family meals because winter’s coming and we won’t be able to use the patio.”