Despite the hand the pandemic has dealt Indiana’s $5 billion hospitality industry, March Madness served as the perfect recipe for hotels and restaurants to regain at least some of their footing. The tournament gave businesses the economic shot in the arm they’ve been craving for more than a year. Katie Harris, owner of Iozzo’s Garden of Italy in downtown Indianapolis, says operating the restaurant during the pandemic has been more difficult than when it opened in 2009 coming out of the Great Recession.
Harris, along with Executive Chef Alan Sternberg, discussed how the tournament has helped business in an interview on Inside INdiana Business with Gerry Dick prior to the start of the Final Four. She said the question became, “How do you operate a restaurant that can’t operate?”
“How do you keep your staff employed? How do you make sure that they are able to provide for their families when we are not able to provide our goods and services due to government restrictions? It was a whole new way of thinking,” said Harris.
Iozzo’s is located just a few blocks from Lucas Oil Stadium and Harris says that was key for the restaurant.
“That has kind of put us in a proper location to see really the economic impact of this tournament,” she said. “In about the three weeks that the tournament has been going on, we’re up about 25.5% over 2019 sales. March is normally a lower time of the year for sales revenue due to people being out of town on spring breaks, less conventions, still that winter time when we can’t use outdoor space. It’s been an amazing boost to not only financially, but employee morale.”
Sternberg joined Iozzo’s just a few months ago and says even though the restaurant has been operating at limited capacity, it is seeing a buzz during the pandemic.
“Just walking through the dining room, it kind of brings back of a semblance of normalcy,” said Sternberg. “I think every restaurant’s dealing with it a little bit differently. The path that they take is the best one for them but for us, coming into a busy restaurant that’s got a lot of warmth and family and love in the air, it’s been really refreshing for me as a chef to just be part of the experience here.”
Harris says the tournament, along with more people getting vaccinated, continues to show there is a light at the end of the tunnel.