Italian restaurant revives after downturn

Writer: Liu Xudong, Xia Yuanjie  |  Editor: Liu Minxia  |  From: Shenzhen Daily  |  Updated: 2022-06-22

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Dancing to lively music, fed by a dainty Italian-style smorgasbord and refreshed by air cleaned after a rainstorm, about 300 diners partied until late Wednesday night at Azzurro in Shopping Park in Futian District, feeling the restaurant’s pulse thumping again.

To celebrate its sixth anniversary, this Italian restaurant located in the heart of Futian threw its largest party since its one-month closure due to the COVID flare-up earlier this year.

The coronavirus resurgence forced eateries in Futian Subdistrict, where Azzuro is located, to suspend dine-in services from March 3 until the end of the month.

Statistics from Shenzhen Cuisine Association showed that 90% of catering enterprises suffered over 50% decline in revenue year on year in the first quarter of this year.

Riccardo Romboli, one of Azzurro’s owners, said that the company was already struggling in January, as people had concerns about dining out amidst pandemic flare-ups. “Since 2020, we have lost many regular customers, such as businessmen, clients of five-star hotels, and attendees of exhibitions from across the world,” he said.

The fully packed anniversary party was unimaginable to the restaurant's two Italian owners back then. “We are surprised to find everybody, from the government, the landlord, staff, to customers, understands us. Without their support, we could not make it,” Romboli said.

On March 20, the Futian District Government unveiled 10 relief measures to help companies that have taken a hit from the COVID flare-ups overcome operation difficulties.

These policies have also injected new blood into foreign-funded enterprises like Azzurro with tax cuts and social security contribution deferrals. The landlord also exempted them from rental payment for one month.

“Little by little, we have paid out the whole expenses for the time we were closed. Now, we are waiting for the application results of the government subsidies," said Giuseppe Cerza, the other owner.

Seats were fully booked soon as the restaurant issued its anniversary party invitations. “A lot of guests supported us by buying membership cards. We would not expect the business to be so good right now," Romboli said.

In addition to the measures, Azzurro is pulling itself up by its bootstraps. Despite the pandemic’s impact, expensive rent and rising prices for ingredients, they have been expanding into opening a new bar, as well as adapting their strategies to the changing market.

As consumers didn’t cut their spending on nightlife, Azzurro’s owners decided to turn part of the restaurant into a bar to appeal to more people. “We are like water flowing in the river. If there is a stone in our way, we will find a way to get through it,” Romboli said.

Bolstered by a set of incentives to boost consumption, Shenzhen’s catering sector has rebounded amid pandemic headwinds since April.

Restaurants in shopping centers have posted 80% of pre-pandemic level business, and more and more dining establishments with new business models were opened, according to the cuisine association.

Romboli and Cerza said they will continue to catch business opportunities in Shenzhen, a metropolis with a mega consumer market and huge spending potential.

“What makes Shenzhen beautiful and exciting is the diversity of the people that come here. Now, it is a little bit stuck, but we have started to see the light at the end of the tunnel,” they added.