Restaurateur Luca Paris believes you can have fun while supporting your community.
His fellow downtown business owners, his customers, and just about everyone else in the Keene area have most likely witnessed him doing something comical to help those in need, usually with friend and fellow local business owner, Ted McGreer. Together, the pair have led efforts swapping roles at the helm of Ted’s Shoe and Sport and Luca’s Mediterranean Cafe to raise money for the local community kitchen, dressed up as male dancers and strutted their stuff on-stage at an annual fundraiser for a youth arts organization in town, or sang a little karaoke in the car with friends (and shared the videos on social media) to help the region’s children’s museum.
When the governor issued a mandate that meant Paris had to close his dining room until further notice last March, Paris hit the ground running.
He used social media as a tool to remain visible and let people know what he and his restaurant were doing to make them feel comfortable.
He ramped up his takeout menu by bringing back favorite dishes and lowering some prices and added curbside and delivery service.
In turn, Paris bought to-go meals for himself and his staff at several other local restaurants to continue to support them during a financially difficult time. He and his staff also did their own delivery rather than using a third-party service like DoorDash — he did it that way so his staff could receive the gratuity.
Of course, there was a little humor behind it.
“Giving free toilet paper away with every to-go order sounded silly,” he said. “But it was the start of going above and beyond during this time.”
For Paris, it wasn’t about making a profit—he was driven to serving the community in a responsible and safe manner, and by creating employment for his team who wanted to work.
“Everything I got to do is because I had a team behind me working side-by-side who wouldn’t quit,” he said. “It gave me the ability to help out wherever I could. They were coming up with ideas while following guidelines — it was challenging.”Something particularly rewarding for Paris to be part of that came from the pandemic is the Monadnock Restaurant Project, a stimulus effort launched this spring from a partnership with The Local Crowd Monadnock, Culinary Journeys and Food Connects.
As of April 1, the project had invested close to $30,000 to purchase gift cards from participating locally-owned restaurants. The cards were strategically dispersed to community members through partnering businesses which shared them with their staff and asked them to spend the gift cards quickly and above and beyond what the card is worth.
“It’s one of the most important things we could have done for the restaurant community,” said Paris. “It was really impressive. People are still giving back, using the gift certificates and spending more money. Businesses are still benefiting … Everyone has stayed positive and remembered we’re all in this together. They all thought of what they could do — because we were all hurting — to be here for each other.”
Another role Paris has taken on over the past year is taking part in regular Zoom meetings with fellow business leaders and restaurant owners (the New Hampshire Lodging & Restaurant Association is involved with the restaurant owners’ meeting).
Mayor George Hansel leads the “business check-in” meeting and other city officials (including city of Keene manager, Elizabeth Dragon), have provided business owners with up-to-date COVID-19 guidelines and other pertinent information as well as answered questions during these meetings.
“It framed every way we would work together,” said Paris.
Paris strongly believes he is only one link in a long and strong chain.
“I reap the benefits because of my name,” he said of his recent accolades for his efforts. “But I’m part of a group. That’s the key. It has nothing to do with me personally. The community and my internal team are standing up, continuing to keep restaurants going and keep things safe. It’s inspiring to be part of.”
He realizes the work he and his fellow business owners in Keene have done over the past year has served as a role model for others, and that the city of Keene is special because of that.
“I don’t know of any town that could have done this, but we as a community did it right,” he said.