Marianna Caldwell of Cassia in Santa Monica, CA, on Changing Hospitality in a Pandemic and Takeout - Wine & Spirits Magazine

Marianna Caldwell of Cassia in Santa Monica, CA, on Changing Hospitality in a Pandemic and Takeout

Marianna Caldwell

Marianna Caldwell, Wine Director, and now General Manager at Santa Monica’s Cassia restaurant has been with the team through openings, closings, indoor/outdoor dining and a to-go campaign. The Southeast Asian–inspired menu is a partnership of Bryan and Kim Ng, Josh Loeb and Zoe Nathan. 

How has this year played out for the restaurant?

It’s been a year of changes. With the first shutdown, we furloughed everyone, and kept healthcare going. This has been really important to the whole team. The pandemic has brought out a lot of kindness, and a lot of ugliness. We’ve seen people coming together to help, a willingness to adapt, and a desire to support. It’s also brought out some of the worst in people. We’ve been pretty strict with our protocols, including facemasks for the staff, and a very precise cleaning procedure. Not all of our guests have taken this as seriously as we do, and have been, at times, unwilling to respect the rules. It’s made me question what hospitality really is.

How have the openings and closings gone?

It’s been tough. Restaurants operate on such miniscule margins, it makes you wonder why anyone would do this. We reopened for the first time in June for outside dining. We kind of dragged our feet because we knew we were going to close again. We were only open for one and a half weeks before we were forced to shut down again. Then there were the riots, and we had to board up the windows. Even though outdoor dining was allowed again in July, we stuck with takeout. We opened again in August for outdoor dining through November, when we were shut down again. I took over as GM in October. We were down to managers and a few chefs.

How has takeout gone, and how has this affected wine sales?

Takeout has been going really well. The response has been great. Wine has been tricky. Typically, wine is 18% of sales and cocktails, 12%, but during the pandemic it’s shifted. It’s become the opposite. I think people just want hard alcohol, and, well, who can blame them? After the first shutdown, I changed the pricing on select bottles to fit more of a retail model, but now, I’m leaning into the cocktail program.

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