For the last two years, Joe Germanotta's career as a New York City restaurant owner amid the coronavirus pandemic has been all about adapting.
"First and foremost, we've had to invest a significant amount of money," Germanotta, who is also known as the father of pop star Lady Gaga, told Fox Business in an interview this week from his Upper West Side, Manhattan restaurant.
The 64-year-old has been running Joanne Trattoria for 11 years. The family restaurant plates the same authentic Sicilian dishes Germanotta grew up on: chicken scarpariello, bolognese sauce, meatballs, lemon artichoke chicken, and more.
Running his own food and drink establishment was always his "dream" as a kid, but Germanotta was quick to admit it has "been a rollercoaster" in the 11 years it’s been a reality. However, it wasn’t until the coronavirus pandemic first surged in early 2020 that he saw the most changes.
"The last two years have been a struggle for everyone. It’s just starting to get back now. Business is about 70% where it was three years ago and it’s probably 50% of what it was two years ago," he said.
Germanotta said Joanne Trattoria was "humming along before the pandemic." "Now, everybody in the industry had to raise prices," he said.
The latest mandate Germanotta’s business and thousands of others across the state have adjusted to in recent months is Bill de Blasio’s proof of vaccination mandate that was enforced on Sept. 13.
Germanotta doesn’t exactly oppose the mandate, but he is wondering when the time will come for business owners to call their own shots again without the government’s intervention.
"It's time to let people make their own decisions. The business owners are responsible and they understand," Germanotta stressed. "We had to put special filters in the air conditioners so we’ll keep doing that. We had to have sanitizer all over the place so we’ll just keep doing that. The business owners know what to do."
From late 2020 to February 2021, Germanotta temporarily shut down the business. Now, he’s fortunate to see it "growing 10% week over week, which is nice."
That’s not without hard work and constant transformation, though.
Since the pandemic hit, Germanotta did what many other eateries in the area have done: constructed outdoor dining. Despite already having a back patio with seating, Joanne Trattoria has a cabana out front, although the owner isn’t exactly a fan of the $15,000 addition.
"I think the city looks like hell," he said of the several makeshift outdoor seating arrangements in the streets of Manhattan. "They don’t clean the streets underneath them so what’s living under there? I just think it just really slums New York and it’s time to get rid of them."
Another addition Germanotta invested in amid the COVID-19 uptick was the installment of a new point of sales and reservation system.
"My waiters can now take orders right at the table and they can check the customer out right at the table. I made an investment in that because we had a manpower shortage."
His new app is starting to "gain some traction," he added, pointing out that it revitalized his online reservations system and has reduced his costs to pay services like OpenTable.
Joanne Trattoria is also now offering entertainment every weekend, including artists like Brian Newman, who is a band member of his famous daughter, and a mix of pop and jazz solo artists and groups.
Just last week, Germanotta also introduced Oktoberfest.
"Oktoberfest is unlimited beer for three hours from taps and a German plate with bratwursts, sauerkraut, a great, big pretzel," the famous father said.
"It’s not exactly healthy but it’s good," he laughed.
When you first walk into the Italian eatery, a bar to the left sits approx. 10 customers. Gaga’s father said it’s one area of the restaurant that’s definitely taken a hit.
"The bar business is gone; it’s coming back now. Patrons can sit at the bar but it wasn’t like that for a long time. It used to be elbow-to-elbow and they’d be here all night. That doesn’t happen anymore. I don’t think it happens anywhere anymore," he said.
Amid the countless changes, Germanotta shared some of the decisions he’s made in recent months have been made with his 40-person staff in mind. He recently gave everyone a 5% raise because "inflation is crazy and it’s going to hit them so I figured I’d be preemptive with it."
He also eliminated lunch on Mondays and Tuesdays so workers could have a break during slow-trafficked hours. He’s also gotten his staff back up to where it was pre-pandemic but is now more vigilant of how his staff is delegated.
"You don’t want to overstaff because they’re tip-pooling. That’s something else that’s different now. They were happy that I didn’t bring in additional people that would dilute the pool," he said.
Although there’s been moments when he’s felt politicians have been on a "power trip" when it comes to policing restaurants amid the pandemic, Germanotta concluded that he’s hopeful businesses in New York and the rest of the country will continue to see an uptick.
"It’s time to start living again and enjoying yourself and to meet with your friends and have a meal. I can understand not hanging out in the bar with strangers but this is a place where you can come and it’s cozy, and you can meet with your friends," he said.
Plus, the Joanne owner isn’t the only Germanotta seeing an increase in business. Germanotta was gearing up for a trip to Las Vegas to catch his daughter Gaga’s "Jazz & Piano" residency this week.
"Oh yeah, I’m excited. I haven’t seen her in a while," Germanotta said. "We’ve spoken to her a couple of times. She’s really enjoyed it. She missed [performing]."