‘The hardest part right now is to keep our employees’: Alba Restaurant owner

Leo Keka, Alba Restaurant owner, joins Yahoo Finance’s Brian Sozzi and Julie Hyman to discuss his restaurant, how it has weathered the storm the pandemic, and what he predicts will happen in the industry in 2021.

Video Transcript

- Well, we know that 2020 has been a time of unprecedented pain for the restaurant industry in particular, a lot of shutdowns, and a lot of different regulations in different areas. There is one restaurant in particular, though, in the Boston area, where the restaurant owner decided to give big bonuses, or collectively bonuses to his employees. That's Leo Keka. He's the owner of Alba restaurant.

Leo is joining us now. So Leo, we're talking what, about $30,000 in bonuses that you paid out to your staff. I guess my first question is, how did you do this at a time when cash is hard to come by at a lot of restaurants?

LEO KEKA: Well, good morning. Thank you for having me here. Well, we started this idea because we figured out it's a struggling time for all of us. So we decided what can we do for our staff? Because they're the ones who have been there for us since we opened this business. So instead of giving a bonus to our customers this year, we decided we're going to do that with our employees. So each gift card people buy, our guest pot, we donated 15% to our staff.

- And so in giving out these bonuses, I mean, I'm sure this was a surprise for your employees at a time where things have been tough. I mean, have your restaurants been open through all of this? What kind of customer flow have you guys seen? And what has the pandemic been like for you?

LEO KEKA: Well, since we announced this, the response has been great from our guests. And people really, really pitched in to help us as well as our service. And the business has been really struggling. We've been 40% till now. Now we're back to 25%. It's extremely hard for us.

So the hardest part for us right now is to keep our employees. So with return of gift cards, people hopefully coming back, our business will come back and survive.

- Leo, you have started to offer meal kits, or deliver steaks to people's homes. And we've seen a lot of restaurants do similar things to try to bring in extra income. Does that help? Does that become a sizeable business for you?

LEO KEKA: Well, obviously, we all know on business, in our restaurant business, your margin is in your alcohol. So we try to do as much as we can food to go. But our experience in the dining, it's always been inside of a restaurant. So doing delivery and doing takeout, it's always been great for keeping the staff together. But as far as profits, it's not there.

- You know, Leo, as we wrap up 2020, obviously, crazy year for your business, your peers in the industry, crazy year in Boston, crazy here in New York. How confident are you that 2021 is going to look better? What kind of timeline do you have on, hey, I might be able to have 75% of my tables full? I mean, are you looking at May, June? How are you thinking about next year?

LEO KEKA: Well, people are coming up with a lot of different ideas when it comes to staying alive in the restaurant business. A lot of takeouts, a lot of fast kitchens, quick kitchens, they call them now as well. But I really think 2021 right after the COVID, right after the vaccine, things will change a lot. People come back.

Obviously, the restaurant's a special thing for night. It's not something you want to do delivery. You want to come inside and have a nice meal and good service and a great bottle of wine, enjoy yourself. Restaurants are meant to go outside and have a beautiful dinner, not being delivered home. My opinion.

- And not have to do dishes! That's one of the things I am really looking forward to going into next year. Leo Keka, thank you so much for being here. Happy new year to you.

And best of luck to you and to your employees. Leo Keka is the owner of Alba in Quincy, Mass. Thank you so much.