Popular Burien restaurant gets proactive, makes big changes to prepare for reopening
Frank and Sue Genzale own Frankie’s B-Town Bistro, an Italian restaurant in Burien.
“We grew up here, we see a lot of our high school friends,” Frank said. “Sue and I have been dating since the 8th grade.”
Frank says his family started selling produce at Pike Place Market in 1928, and he and his wife opened Frank’s Quality Produce there in 1979. Why did they decide to open a restaurant after years of selling produce?
“God only knows!” Frank and Sue laugh. “Urging from all our friends out here. Between the two of us, we know pretty much everybody in Burien. We’re here [at the restaurant] every night, we love it.”
Thanks to their landlord, Key Bank, freezing their rent, Frankie’s B-Town Bistro has been eking by doing takeout, with only a couple of employees and reduced hours. I asked Frank how much money they’re making now compared to normal, pre-quarantine times.
“We never made any money!” Frank laughs. “This is a work of love or a love of work, one or the other. No, we’re only doing 20% of what we were doing before. It’s just takeout.”
But Frank and Sue didn’t open the restaurant to do takeout. They miss seeing their community fill up the dining room with their graduation and birthday parties, enjoying plates piled high with spaghetti and meatballs made with his family recipes.
“We’re more interested in having our friends and family come back to enjoy a meal with us.”
Eager to reopen, whenever it’s allowed, the couple is looking ahead and planning for the future. They asked their loyal customers what changes they’d like to see.
“We have about 3,500 people on our email list and I launched a survey asking our customers what would make them most comfortable dining in with us again,” said Michele Smith, the restaurant’s wine director. “They just want social distancing and cleanliness. So [Frank] constructed these partitions in the restaurant around every table and reduced the capacity by 50%. No one had to tell them to do it, they just did it, so I’m really proud of these guys.”
Frank built wood partitions to match the restaurant’s decor, turning every table into a private booth.
“We put Plexiglas up around our pizza window, Plexiglas partitions in the entryway, lots of Plexiglas partitions outside so that people will not come in contact with each other unless they get up, climb over the wall, and sneeze on someone,” Frank joked. “But it’s what our customers want. I think they’ll be comfortable with it. We’ll be sanitizing tables and chairs after people leave.”
Staff will wear masks and gloves, menus and condiments will be disposable, and they’ll make any other changes or upgrades Governor Inslee recommends.
“Honestly, I feel real good about it,” Frank said. “I like the way it turned out. We did it on a temporary basis, everything can be removed if it has to be. It’s very comfortable. I’m kind of excited to see how people receive it.”
Working in Pike Place Market since the 1920s, his family’s businesses have survived wars and earthquakes, The Great Depression and recessions. The Genzale family is all about the long game.
“We’ve been married for 52 years, our businesses are generations old,” Frank said. “It’s just the way we are.”
No word yet on when restaurants will reopen in Burien and beyond, but when they do, the Genzale family will be ready.
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