Civico by the Park

Today’s special guest is Dario Gallo, owner of Civico 1845 in Little Italy and Civico by the Park in Bankers Hill. Dario was born and raised in Cosenza, Italy, and after graduating with an economics and business administration degree, he moved to the US with his brother, Pietro. They opened their first restaurant, Civico 1845, in 2015, and in 2020 they opened Civico by the Park. The restaurants specialize in Calabrian dishes, pinsa Romana (ancient Roman-style pizza) made from scratch, and are noteworthy for offering vegan and gluten-free options on the menu. Dario is here to talk about how even though restaurants are reopening, many are struggling to find employees—an issue that’s happening nationwide. Troy interviewed Dario about San Diego’s employee shortage last month, but there’s so much more to unpack on this topic.

Dario says he is experiencing a phenomenon where for an entire year people needed jobs, but once everything opened and Civico was short-staffed, no one was applying to work. After talking to other restaurant owners who said they’re having the same problem, he realized many were offering three to four extra dollars an hour for starting wages—which is much higher than before the pandemic. Three of Dario’s employees even quit, without notice, because another restaurant had recruited them with higher wages that they couldn’t turn down. He says it got to the point where they were so understaffed they worried they’d have to close their doors.

The seemingly easy solution is to raise pay for their workers, but Dario explains that it just isn’t that easy: The restaurant industry is not a very profitable one—for every dollar that comes in, a successful restaurant is lucky to see a nickel in profits. The solution he proposes is abolishing tipping altogether. He argues that this is the only way restaurants would be able to pay their workers more, and distribute wages evenly among the front- and back-of-house staff. If the average customer tips 15–20 percent, Dario says that increasing the menu prices by that much shouldn’t devastate their wallet—and that it could solve the issue of entitled guests treating employees poorly (which he has seen far too often). 

But the only way for this plan to succeed long term is if every restaurant in a particular region adopts it at the same time—which, realistically, would require legislation. So for the time being, Dario and his brother were able to figure out how to raise wages for their employees to compete in this new market, and be able to maintain the new wage even after money from PPP loans runs out. Once this happens, he predicts that the bubble of higher server wages will burst, and the restaurants offering unusually high wages will have to either let people go or dramatically cut pay. Listen to learn more!

In Hot Plates, a futuristic grocery store called Valet Market, which will operate without any cashiers or kiosks, is opening in East Village at the end of the month. Chef Steve Brown will be transforming Isabel’s in Pacific Beach into a butcher shop and burger bar, while chef Isabel Cruz is remodeling her cafe, Coffee Cup, in La Jolla. Randy’s Donuts, an iconic donut shop from LA, announced it plans to open 10 locations in San Diego as part of its global expansion.

In Two People for Takeout / Two People for $50, Noah's pick this week is Trucha Restaurante-Bar in Tijuana for their unique and rich clam-chowder-covered fries. Upon returning to San Diego, David visited all his favorite spots, including The Friendly for a slice of pizza, Sushi Uno for a sushi roll, Fall Brewing Company for drinks, and Roberto’s Taco Shop for a taco. Dario recommends La Fachada in Logan Heights for an authentic Mexican food experience (get the lengua and carnitas). Troy’s $57 pick is Vaga, Claudette Zepeda’s new restaurant in Encinitas—check out his First Look and read about his experience.

Thank you for listening! As always, we want to hear from our listeners. Need a recommendation for takeout? Is there a guest you want us to book on the show? Let us know! You can call us at 619-744-0535 and leave a voicemail, or if you’re too shy, you can email us at happyhalfhour@sdmag.com. See you next week!

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