CHESHIRE – Throughout the course of the pandemic, no industry was more negatively impacted by COVID-19-related restrictions than food services.
Restaurants in particular were forced to close at the onset of the crisis, and then had to adapt to an ever-changing landscape that inhibited their ability to provide meals and service in a profitable manner. Many restaurants did not survive the turmoil.
One that has is Viron Rondo Osteria, the popular Italian restaurant located in the north end of Cheshire. Since moving into the location in 2014, owner Viron Rondos has turned the establishment into a destination spot, not only for hungry Cheshire patrons, but also customers from all over the state.
Over the last two years, Rondos’ restaurant was impacted like all other establishments, but he was able to stay afloat during the worst of the pandemic and then adapt to the “new normal” over time. It allowed him to not only remain a thriving restaurant but also retain the majority of his staff and give back to the community.
All of it earned Rondos a very special recognition.
Earlier this month, local and state officials turned out on a sunny afternoon to present Rondos with the Small Business Administration award for Connecticut “Small Business Owner of the Year.” The SBA-sponsored honor is presented to 50 winners per year — one per state — as a recognition of their hard work and ability to keep local and state economies moving, even through the most challenging of circumstances.
“The SBA Connecticut 2022 Small Business Week Award winners are great examples of businesses that are helping to build a better America through entrepreneurship,” said Mike Vlacich, SBA New England Regional Administrator. “These business owners demonstrate the resiliency and tenacity of entrepreneurs across Connecticut and our nation. They have proven their staying power, they create jobs, have shown response to adversity during unimaginable setbacks and they give back to their communities through their businesses and on their own time.”
At the ceremony on April 11, held outside of Rondos’ Route 10 restaurant, U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Connecticut, along with Cheshire Town Council Chairman Tim Slocum and other officials, joined Rondos and his family for the award presentation, as diners taking advantage of a spring day outdoors looked on.
“I am so very grateful for this award,” said Rondos. “It has been a couple of very challenging years and I am so very proud of my family, my staff, and the entire community. I am also very proud of the restaurant community.”
In choosing Viron Rondo Osteria, the SBA was acknowledging the local restaurant industry in general, Rondos believes, and he spoke about how grateful he remains that his establishment has been able to survive and thrive after such unprecedented challenges.
“We were one of the lucky ones,” he said, crediting the restaurant’s outdoor dining experience for helping during the pandemic. “A lot of places that couldn’t (offer outdoor seating) really struggled. Some of them went out of business.”
When the pandemic first hit in 2020, Rondos had just finished a massive construction project — a multi-million-dollar addition that included a Mediterranean-inspired patio and veranda, a vintage-chandelier-capped New York City-style bar, a second kitchen, a wine room and additional dining space. When all restaurants were forced to close for indoor dining and, in the first 90 days of the pandemic offer only take-out meals, Rondos admits to being concerned about how his business would survive.
“It was really the immediate community that kept us going those first three months,” said Rondos. “Their support … we wouldn’t be here without them.”
As the crisis continued, Rondos and his staff basically had to “be different every day,” he said. “The most difficult part was that the rules and regulations were changing constantly,” he continued. “Something you were supposed to be doing this week, the next week it was changed.”
The loyalty of his customers allowed Rondos to not only keep the majority of his staff on payroll, but also offer aid during a trying time.
“We did a lot (offering meals) to the hospitals,” he said. “We helped the (Cheshire Food Pantry), gave what we could to the (Cheshire’s Lights of Hope). It was such a bad time for so many people, we just wanted to help the community anyway we could … as a way of saying ‘Thank you for keeping us alive (as a business).’”
As the state and country moves past the pandemic and most of the restrictions it caused, Viron Rondo Osteria remains one of the most popular eateries in all of Connecticut, routinely being named to “Best of” lists. Rondos continues to be grateful for the support and believes it’s because his establishment is committed to offering the best locally-sourced ingredients, top-notch service, and an atmosphere where “one way or another, you’re going to leave happy.”
“I think we have been able to bring New York, the Mediterranean, and New England together here,” said Rondos, with a laugh. “After 30 years in this industry, I have learned what to do and what not to do. We are very authentic in what we are. We are not pretending to be something we are not.”
Viron Rondo Osteria is located at 1721 Highland Ave. For more information on the restaurant, menu items, or hours of operation, visit their website at www.vironrondoosteria.com.