Twelve years ago, Abdul Johnson began his employment at Luciano’s restaurant as a dishwasher, but he said he had ambition and no intention of spending the rest of his life washing dishes.
He watched the chefs and the cooks as they went about their jobs, and in his fourth year, he asked the chef to give him an opportunity to be a cook. Since that fourth year, Johnson has cooked at the restaurant, which yesterday announced that it was permanently shuttering.
Ash Henderson, director of marketing for Restaurant Services Limited, in a press release, said “After more than a decade serving the Bahamian community and visitors, the restaurant will be permanently closing its doors”.
Henderson said due to the current economic climate, the restaurant’s
reliance on the tourist market, and the economic uncertainty in the upcoming months, it is unable to continue as a viable business.
“Despite increased competition in the industry, and a shift in the customer base, Luciano’s management had remained committed to its staff despite mounting losses each month. The economic impact of COVID-19 was the final nail in the coffin, leaving no choice but to close and make its team redundant.”
He said the sad reality is the restaurant industry operates on very slim margins, and Luciano’s was no exception. And that the owners and management team have been struggling to make ends meet for the last couple of years and have exhausted every avenue to keep the restaurant open and to keep the team employed.
“Nobody could have predicted the effects from COVID-19 on the economy, and sadly, the fallout has necessitated the permanent closure of the restaurant,” Henderson said.
Last year, Luciano’s, which opened in 2004 and had built its reputation on Italian offerings, switched its concept to a steak and seafood model in an effort to remain fresh, modern and relevant.
Henderson said the steak and seafood sub-brand was an evolution of the Italian and Bahamian cuisine the restaurant was famous for.
“We were excited to be able to highlight our prime menu offerings, but the economic situations leading to our closure were affecting us long before the steak and seafood rebranding,” he said.
Johnson is one of 72 managers and staff affected by the closure.
“I go by the grace of God, by faith and just day by day,” said the father of five, who has now joined the thousands of people who find themselves unemployed due to COVID-19.
He said he has been surviving with the help of family and friends.
“I love my kids and they know I take care of my kids, so they help me out when they could.”
Johnson said he heard about the restaurant’s closure through “l’il sip sip”.
“I find out through a classmate of mine in a school group. She reached out to me and asked me how I was doing because she heard Luciano’s closed down for good. I was like ‘how you know that information?’”
Johnson said he isn’t upset at the restaurant’s closure, but rather how it was done. He said he never received official word.
“Like I tell my chef, everybody could close down, but it’s just the way y’all doin’ things,” he said.
Henderson, in response to a Nassau Guardian inquiry, said Luciano’s uses an employment agency for line staff.
“The agency was formally notified on May 18. It is disappointing to hear that some of the staff are being informed after the fact,” he said.
Iona Davidson, a cook at Luciano’s Restaurant for two years, said she found out about the closure from a coworker.
“When I heard it last night, I was heartbroken,” she said.
The married mother of four, has two dependents at home – a 17-year-old and a 15-year-old.
Her family has been surviving off its savings. And her husband, a contractor, just returned to work last week Monday.
“It takes two for ends to meet and right now it have me even in a backwards position,” she said. “Savings is to the end right now. Where could I seek employment right now because it’s not only me one in this condition?”
Without any money coming into the household, she said she was unable to pay any bills.
Sheriel Johnson, a 15-year employee of the restaurant who was officially a line cook, but who said she operated in the capacity of a sous chef, told The Guardian she learnt of the official closure on Sunday night.
“We [were] hearing it, but we looked at is as being rumor, so it was heart wrenching really.”
The mother of two, a 15-year-old and a five-year old, said her family is just trying to survive. Her husband, an electrician, works one day a week.
“It’s really hard,” she said.
Making it worse, she said, she learnt all of this after having surgery last week Tuesday for an ectopic pregnancy.
“Having to go through all of that and losing your job is real hard,” she said. “The pandemic we in now, it’s hard now and you can’t just jump up and say let me go look for something to do.”
The Bahamas confirmed its first coronavirus case on March 15.
To date, there are 100 confirmed cases, 11 deaths, 46 recovered cases, six hospitalized cases, 43 active cases, and 1,977 tests completed.
Worldwide, there are 5,267,452 confirmed cases and 339,949 deaths.