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August 4, 2020 COVID Stories

COVID Stories: As it overcomes pandemic’s struggles, Livia’s Dish celebrates 8-year anniversary

Photo | Courtesy of Livia's Dish Husband-and-wife restaurateurs Enton Mehillaj (left) and Oriola Koci parked a Ninety + Cellars wine truck at Livia's Dish as part of the eatery's eight-year anniversary celebration.

Livia's Dish is celebrating eight years of business amidst the continued coronavirus pandemic.

Oriola Koci and her husband Enton Mehillaj started their family restaurant, named after their youngest daughter, back on July 31, 2012, serving breakfast and lunch to the city of Worcester. Koci said the celebration is for not only the successes of the past eight years, but also getting through the many hardships of the coronavirus. 

“It’s not a five-year, or a 10-year, [when] people usually celebrate those things,” Koci said. “Being eight years after quite a few months with the pandemic and opening up, and being able to respond to a challenge the way that we did, is quite an achievement for us.”

The celebration, which was held the first weekend of August, included a Ninety + Cellars rose wine truck in the parking lot of the restaurant, a specialty drink menu, new menu additions, and raffles with prizes for guests having brunch. 

“We have gotten great, great, great, support from the city of Worcester,” Koci said. “And every year has been better than the one prior, and we are really thrilled.”

Livia's Dish’s anniversary celebration comes after Koci and Mehillaj experienced many of the same hardships other restaurants faced due to the pandemic. When the coronavirus hit Worcester, Koci prepared for the worst. 

“I sat down with my team and reviewed all of the guidelines and made sure that we were in compliance with all of them, ” Koci said. “That's the most important thing to do … and we’ll do our part to prevent this from happening again.” 

When the pandemic began, changes at Livia's Dish included the enhancement of the already enforced sanitation guidelines, as well as many different innovative strategies to help ensure the safety of guests and employees. It adjusted to curbside pickup when the coronavirus was limiting dine-in, and the restaurant is now working on developing online ordering. 

“We are probably one of the most regulated industries,” Koci said. “We are dealing with food, with people, we have to do most of this all the time.”

One example of a large change in operations was combining Livia’s Dish with the couple’s other Worcester restaurant, Alteas Eatery, and serving both out of one building. Koci said she had to lay off almost 65% of her staff, due to the shift caused by the coronavirus restrictions, but says most have returned since reopening. 

“We brought them back as soon as we were able too,” Koci said. “As the regulations changed and the demands changed, then we were able to bring more people back, and when we opened, I would say 90% of my staff was back.”

Training was needed in weeks prior in order to maintain the guidelines the staff needed to follow, in order to ensure a smooth transition into tackling the new challenges the coronavirus presented. More people were hired in order to help with the change in operations. 

When the official reopening occurred, she says it felt similar to when they first opened their doors eight years ago.  

“It felt like it was day one, ages ago,” Koci said. “It is a different kind of business now, it was a different challenge and we didn’t know what to expect.”

Koci said she believes restaurants were hit the hardest and emphasizes the struggles of helping guests feel good and happy in a time of restrictions. 

“We are walking a very fine line trying to still save the essence of serving the community by being a hospitality service,” Koci said. “But also being safe, not only for everyone else, but also for my staff, and people that we work with.” 

Livia's Dish now has a tent outside the restaurant to serve customers while abiding by state guidelines for social distancing. 

“When we opened outside, as an owner, being able to have so many seats outside, I felt better,” Koci said. “Everyone during this time kind of feels better if they sit outside, and with my staff following the guidelines, and the protocols we have put in place, everybody feels safe.” 

Koci and her husband are first generation immigrants from Albania, and she said the new outside addition added to operations as a way of serving guests in a way resembling Europeans.

“In Europe, and even outside, it’s just the thing to do during the summer,” Koci said. “For me this is the opportunity to kind of expand the outside … When this all happened we had to get creative.” 

Overall, Koci hopes to go completely back to normal in the future, but prepares to continue making changes, and being innovative for the safety of employees, and customers, as well as the survival of Livia’s Dish. 

“We all need to look for solutions,” Koci said. “There are solutions to any situation. I have lived a life where I always look for the bright side in anything I did.

“We can overcome this, we have to adjust,” she said.

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