Editor’s note: As the coronavirus disrupts the restaurant industry, the AJC has changed its dining coverage and suspended its restaurant reviews. Instead, we are publishing a new column called Atlanta Orders In, which looks at the challenges faced by Atlanta restaurants and serves as a guide to ordering takeout.
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Our inaugural Atlanta Orders In column takes us to Sandy Springs, to the cozy Italian spot Cibo e Beve that chef Linda Harrell and her business partner Gianni Betti opened in 2001. The day of my visit, Harrell was taking a much needed day off, but Betti was there to greet me at a safe, six-foot social distance. As Betti gave me a blue-gloved Smurfy hand wave, Erik Torres paused to look up from his post in the open kitchen. His eyes revealed the smile that was hidden by the mask that covered his mouth and nose.
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Normally, the restaurant would be humming with activity at this early afternoon hour, with the back of house prepping for dinner service and the servers finishing up a lunch shift. But these aren’t normal times. Just like most every restaurant around the country that is still operating in some capacity, Cibo e Beve has been forced to cease dine-in service. It’s 20-person staff has been cut to a skeleton crew of seven who, along with Betti and Harrell, is trying to keep the place afloat through carryout, delivery and gift card sales.
The shift to carryout and delivery-only service hasn’t been too difficult, Betti said, because Cibo e Beve offered that prior to the coronavirus outbreak. But they have gotten more creative as they seek to cater to their customers, 70% of whom are families from the surrounding neighborhoods. So, not only is the restaurant offering its regular dinner menu, but also a family-style menu intended to feed four people. Popular sellers have included pasta dishes, chicken Parmesan and meatballs. “Those are our hardcore Cibo dishes,” Betti said. Cibo e Beve also has a wine license and is selling wine at retail cost.
Plenty of loyal customers have been spending their dining dollars at the restaurant. “We feel blessed by the neighborhood. They’ve been so supportive,” Betti said, noting that people are being generous with tips to his staff. “They are not making as much as they were making on a regular shift, but it is better than nothing.”
He was especially touched by the customer who wrote a chalk message at the entrance: “We love you, Cibo family.” It was signed, “Your community.”
Transitioning to a different style of operation is “a different game,” Betti said. “What you’re missing is the most beautiful part of our business: interacting with our guests.”
Despite people ordering food, buying bottles of vino and stocking up on gift cards that don’t have an expiration date, Cibo e Beve is suffering. Sales are down 75%, according to Betti.
He and Harrell have applied for an small business loan. “We don’t know if we’re going to get approved or not,” he said. And they intend to approach their landlord about “asking if he has a plan to help us out.” Like other restaurant operators, they have signed their employees up for unemployment.
“We cannot go on forever doing just to-go. Especially, the workers can’t go on forever,” Betti said. “It hurts. The thing that makes you feel sorry: everybody needs to pay bills, not just me and Linda, but everybody that makes money out of a restaurant.”
CIBO E BEVE
Menu: A family-style menu as well as the majority of the regular menu, with the exception of some fish and seafood dishes, including those with seabass, salmon and mussels. "It's difficult to get it fresh," Betti said. Each item on the family-style menu serves four people. Appetizer options are meatballs ($24) and a chopped salad ($30). Pasta ($50-60) offerings are pasta penne alfredo with chicken, spinach and cheese ravioli with Bolognese sauce, and orecchiette pugliese. Entrées ($60-72) – chicken or veal, piccata or marsala sauce – come with an order of arugula or Caesar salad. Limited sides ($12-14).
Alcohol: Wine is sold by the bottle at retail price. Featured wines range between $12-29, but prices and selection can vary. All wines on the regular bottle list are for sale. Wines not on the list can be ordered. The restaurant can also ship by the case. Call or email for details.
What I ordered: Spinach and cheese ravioli with Bolognese sauce, Caesar salad, 2017 J. Lohr Estates Seven Oaks Cabernet Sauvignon. It was a simple, yet filling and satisfying meal. The housemade ravioli are oversize rounds generously stuffed with ricotta and spinach. The four-person portion abounds with meaty Bologonese. Leftovers reheat well. The Caesar comes in a same-size tray as the pasta; a fresh, snappy dressing is packaged in a separate plastic container. Betti recommended the Seven Oaks as not only a good value ($12) – uh, you can't beat that, people – but also a solid pairing. He was right.
How to order: For carryout, contact the restaurant directly via phone 404-250-8988 or email GianniCiboAtlanta@gmail.com; For delivery, order through Uber Eats or DoorDash.
Safety measures: All employees wear gloves. The restaurant has ordered masks, but those have not yet arrived. Employees are practicing safe social distancing during their shifts. According to Betti, he has never seen more than two guests inside the restaurant at any time. Cibo e Beve will also offer curbside pickup to customers who prefer not to enter the restaurant. Credit card payment is on-site.
Hours: 2-9 p.m. daily
Address: 4969 Roswell Road, Sandy Springs
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