Just outside the walls of the Holy See in Rome, the five-year-old Neighborhood Restaurant (featured on an episode of the Eater series "Dining on a Dime" with Lucas Peterson) serves a steady stream of clergy and other Vatican workers. This is prime — and expensive — real estate, but co-owner Claire Datu wants Filipinos to have "the best location." "We are always in the suburbs, eating in the park and everything," she says. "So even if we have a lot of bills to pay, whatever."
There were even more bills to pay than usual when Neighborhood shuttered on March 12, one day after Italian prime minister Giuseppe Conte ordered the closure of all restaurants, bars, shops and other "non-essential" businesses. In anticipation of a new Jollibee opening blocks away, Claire and her husband closed for renovations in January and took a vacation to the Philippines. The freshly-renovated restaurant had been open for little more than two weeks before the decree came in.
"But since then the government is arranging some help for everyone," says Claire, who moved to Italy with her family when she was 12 years old. "Italy is very rich. We pay high taxes here, so the government can really afford to say don't pay the bills." (On March 18, Italy signed a $28 billion economic survival plan that gives shop owners tax credits to cover 60 percent of this month's commercial rent. Residential rent is not mentioned in the plan.)
Claire is doing her best to look for small positives, such as extra time with her husband and their three-year-old daughter. "When we are operating, we don't even have time to say hi," she says. "I see (my daughter) for one hour a day." She is also enjoying the leftovers from the restaurant. "Our Bicol Express (pork in coconut sauce) is so good! I've sold it for five years and I didn't even taste it," she says.
At times, shreds of panic break through the positivity. "Everyone is psychologically afraid," she says. "But people are really doing a good job … After this, we'll work and pay everything, I'm sure."
Neighborhood Restaurant is located at Via Germanico, 170a, 00192 Roma RM, Italy.
+39 06 323 3563
The restaurant is receiving donations to recoup their losses at https://www.paypal.com/paypalme2/neighborhoodrome.