EAST LONGMEADOW – There were no major announcements or marketing campaigns. No balloons and streamers. Just a two word statement on Facebook – “We are open”. With that, Redstone Pasta Company fired up its wood-burning oven and began serving customers at 642 North Main St.
The 250-seat restaurant was due to open around April 2020. After a major renovation of what had been Pasquale’s restaurant, Redstone’s menus were ready, staff were in place and owner George Akkouris was putting the finishing touches on the place. .
Then a little-known new virus named COVID-19 debuted on the evening news, and Akkouris instinctively knew his business was in trouble.
“I remember meeting our managers just before the opening, and I said, ‘This is going to be a problem. This stuff is big, it’s not nothing and it’s going to affect everything,'” Akkouris recalls “We had contingency plans in place, but nobody was ready for the whole world to shut down.”
Akkouris’ prophecy turned out to be correct. Restaurants have closed, some forever. Most people didn’t feel like eating out. It was a bad time to run a restaurant, a worse time to open one. So Akkouris kept his closed – and waited for the pandemic to run its course.
It ultimately took two years, but Akkouris finally opened its Redstone restaurant last month, and it had a good opening night.
“We had a great audience. There was an hour and a half wait for a table,” Akkouris said.
Akkouris had planned to open months ago, but it couldn’t hire enough people. He found very few of them willing to return to the restaurant business. COVID-19 had forced restaurant workers to find other jobs, and they did.
“A lot of people got hurt, a lot of people thought they weren’t being taken care of during COVID[-19]. Many people were overworked and underestimated. This industry takes, takes, takes and gives nothing back. It’s a tough industry,” Akkouris said.
Akkouris also owns Golden Irene’s, an Italian and Greek restaurant in East Windsor, CT. The restaurateur was having such trouble hiring help that he closed Golden Irene’s and transferred the entire staff of 17 to help run Redstone.
“It was an extreme decision to close my other restaurant that had been open for 18 years and open Redstone, but it had to be done. It was the only way to achieve it,” says Akkouris. “We tried to hire people and we just couldn’t find the staff.”
Even now, Akkouris has about half the help he needs, but he’s making it work. He said he’d like to offer lunch, but he can’t, so he said he’s focused on five-star dinners. He would like to offer 10 pasta dishes, but he is content with five. The preparation staff is not big enough to do them all. When he should be running the business, he often finds himself making all the ravioli himself, up to 400 at a time.
Even with the challenges and the delayed opening, Akkouris said Redstone was red.
“We turned on the lights and we started at top speed. We are doing very well,” he said.
Redstone offers an extensive menu including brick oven pizzas, salads, sandwiches, and several meat and pasta dishes. Bread and pizza are made from sourdough, which Akkouris says is unique in the restaurant industry. All dishes are prepared from scratch with high quality natural ingredients.
Akkouris aims to impress and amaze with a menu of surprises.
“People have preconceived ideas about what food is. They know what parmigiana and French are. We try to offer foods that you’ve never heard of before. We try to put a different spin to food. We offer our own variations of pasta dishes,” he said.
Akkouris had a long journey leading up to Redstone’s big debut. He said he never thought about quitting – he was too busy to persevere.
“Faith is what drove me. I had faith that everything was going to work out,” he said. “There was no other way to do it. helped through that, determination too.