Nancy Beidleman and Susan Smith, sisters, and partners in Villa Rosa Pizza Kitchen, say community and staff helped the restaurant survive 2020.

In 2002, Nancy Beidleman purchased a restaurant from two gentlemen, who, after running the neighborhood eatery for 22 years, were ready to retire.

She and her husband Carlos both had experience in the restaurant industry working for large restaurant brands, but Beidleman was looking for a place to serve as her “passion project,” an independent restaurant she could shape to her own hospitality and culinary vision. That project became Villa Rosa Pizza Kitchen.

In 2016, Nancy’s sister Susan Smith was looking to invest in a business, and her sister’s “passion project” was a great prospect. Smith became a 50% owner, and the sisters share responsibilities running the operation.

Each has their strengths, says Beidleman. “I work with the staff, do menu development, and run back-of-house operations while Susan's expertise is in the financial, the front of house, and customer-service side of the business.”

The restaurant, in Chicago’s Edgebrook neighborhood, has been a community staple for nearly 20 more years under Beidleman’s care and is operating through the pandemic thanks to the local community and her team’s ability to adapt, as this Q&A reveals.

The pandemic hit the restaurant industry hard. How did Villa Rosa Pizza Kitchen respond?
It’s all about knowing when to pivot. Overnight, we had to put in new protocols to keep our customers and staff safe.

Initially we weren’t sure how COVID-19 was transmitted, so we didn’t accept cash or offer pick-up. We took credit-card payments over the phone and offered contact-free delivery free of charge. During Chicago’s shelter-in-place order, we bumped up our delivery team and members of our waitstaff stepped up to make deliveries, too.

As a family-owned restaurant, we didn’t want to close our doors. Our customers rely on us to relax and enjoy a good meal. Many tell us that we help them retain a sense of normalcy during the pandemic and it helps us feel normal, too.

Also, we were afraid of not being able to reopen; that would affect so many households.

Has your menu been affected?
We had to be flexible and adapt to rolling outages with our suppliers. We ran into plant and distribution shutdowns and couldn’t get certain ingredients. For example, romaine lettuce was in short supply, so we made substitutions.

We choose our ingredients very carefully to create our made-from-scratch items. Our pasta brand was in short supply and our sausage distributor was facing his own meat shortages.

But part of helping people reclaim some normalcy in their life is ensuring they can order their favorite menu items. So, we stocked up with two weeks’ worth of supplies when they were available and adjusted our back-of-house cold storage just to ensure we had our select ingredients on hand.

How has your menu helped you stay connected with your customers?
During the pandemic, everyone craved comfort and normalcy. A family who may have gone out for pizza on Friday nights before the pandemic switched to “Pizza Fridays” at home. On Saturdays, we can’t make wings fast enough.

Summer of 2020 was a record low for number of salads sold; my guess is that no one was going to the beach.

We’ve developed a business approach over the years, and it withstood the test of the pandemic. Essentially, we have two types of customers at Villa Rosa, those who want Italian food and those who want pizza and wings. A family can get pizza for the kids, veal limone and pasta for the parents; it’s a one-stop deal and everyone’s happy.

What else did you need to adjust?
Communication. Social media, community websites, and old-fashioned mail help us stay connected to our customers since we don’t see them every week in our dining room.

We frequently check the websites of our local Chamber of Commerce and Everyday Edgebrook any for any operational guideline updates.

Along with keeping a presence on our Neighborhood app, we continually update our social media pages and our Google and Yelp accounts with current hours of operation.

We don’t use a third-party delivery service, so when our customers call in, we talk to them directly. Also, we’ve kept doing our weekly menu mailing through USPS Every Door Direct Mail. When our mailing goes out, customers call and say, “I got the menu, so you must be open!”