LaRosa’s Café and Bar, Palmers Restaurant & Tavern, and Salvatore’s Restaurant are relieved and excited to have their Andover locations back to business as usual. Each have returned to full operations after the tragic gas explosions shut down their businesses on Thursday, September 13 and rocked life as usual in Andover, Lawrence, and North Andover.
From the start, Paul LaRosa, owner of LaRosa’s Café and Bar, decided to make the most he could out of his bad situation. Just three days after shutting down, LaRosa got creative in order to keep his doors open. Step one was to restore hot water. Step two was to devise a manageable menu.
“Nine years ago, we started out as a sandwich shop,” LaRosa says. “We reopened Monday afternoon [9/17] for sandwiches and salads.” LaRosa’s bar menu was also revised to include cold items like carpaccio, lobster cocktail, and ceviche, which kept business alive.
“People loved that we were open,” LaRosa says. “In the restaurant business, it’s never easy—there’s always a road block.” Not to be held back, LaRosa brought in alternative cooking methods like sous vide machines, table top fryers, and a panini press to continue serving his faithful customers.
Gas was restored at LaRosa’s on October 31 and LaRosa is leveraging the survivalist ingenuity he and his team harnessed to get through the crisis to inspire their current and future menus. “Now that we are back up and running, we still embrace that mentality,” says LaRosa. Their current menu includes items from the old menu along with favorites from their gas-less menu.
Similarly, John Ingalls, owner of Palmers Restaurant & Tavern, was energized to reopen on November 5 with new menus, including wine and cocktail lists, as well as a refreshed interior.
For Ingalls, the nearly eight weeks of downtime was excruciating. “Truthfully, it’s been like a complete roller coaster. At first there were no answers,” he says. “I felt completely handcuffed, it was totally out of my control.” However, he didn’t sit idle in the weeks Palmers was closed. “This gave us a good opportunity to think things through. Now we have a really exciting menu with a lot of interesting dishes. We went in every day to try to make it better. We cleaned things that we can’t when we’re operating and really dug in to get everything repaired and fixed up. The place looks really good.”
The support of regular customers, employees, and bands willing to donate their time meant the world to Ingalls. “Throughout this whole event, we got a tremendous amount of support,” he says.
A running theme heard from each of the restaurant owners was concern for their employees. Kevin Branco, owner and general manager at Salvatore’s, says, “It was stressful. The biggest thing I worried about was my employees. It takes a long time to build a good kitchen and front of the house staff and I didn’t want to lose anybody.”
Branco feels fortunate that Salvatore’s Andover didn’t lose any personnel. Palmers and LaRosa’s can proudly report the same. At Salvatore’s, the mood is positive and enthusiastic. “Everyone is happy to be back and happy to be working,” Branco says. Salvatore’s resumed operations on October 22 and welcomes patrons back to a full menu.
“Everything is going really well now,” Branco says. “It’s nice to be back open. I want everyone to come down and check out our new specials, as well as other restaurants and shops that have been closed.”