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The Rook

Manayunk’s Newest Restaurant Thrives Amid Uncertainty

Manayunk’s Newest Restaurant Thrives Amid Uncertainty 
The Rook opened its doors on January 3rd, 2020. Six weeks later, the coronavirus hit. But The Rook’s ownership and managers Dominique Franco & Danielle Salley didn’t panic. In fact, by continuing to employ key staff members and maintaining a level of flexibility during these uncertain times, The Rook has been able to develop a well-deserved reputation as one of this city’s newest hotspots. 
Heady Times (HT): You did quite a renovation before opening. Can you tell us about what that process was like? 
Dominique Franco (DF): This place used to be the East End Tavern, which was more of a dive bar. Our owners really loved the outside of the building and its character, but wanted to transform it into something more laid back than what you’d find on Main Street in Manayunk. 
Danielle Salley (DS): We wanted to cater more toward the young professional crowd here, as opposed to the college-aged patrons you might typically find on Main Street. So we opened up the space, put in bigger windows to make it feel roomy and took advantage of the outdoor space, which wasn’t being used at all. That turned out to be a smart choice with the way things are now.
HT: What was it like when the COVID shutdown first took effect?
DS: We’d only been open for six weeks, so it was crazy. We had just opened, ready to hit the ground running and suddenly we had to switch everything and adjust quickly.
DF: First and foremost, it was important to our owners that they keep all their key people employed. They didn’t want them to have to find new employment or file for unemployment. So we stayed open and followed all the rules, from take-out to outdoor dining and eventually limited indoor dining.
DS: At every phase, our owners’ mindsets were, let’s make sure we’re able to stay open, pay our bills, not go into debt and keep paying our key people. Because we know when we’re able to be fully open again, if our key people are still here, we’ll be able to build off that base and keep it going.
HT: How are things now that the dust has, at least partially, settled?
DF: We have a great buzz going now. Early on, even though we were new, we were able to create a sense of normalcy for people. When there wasn’t much for people to do, they could utilize our outdoor space and the café seating, while still following all the guidelines.
DS: If anything, being a new business during the shutdown allowed us to take a step back and really create an identity for ourselves. Now we’re an established, upscale bar with amazing food and high-end beverages, which you don’t necessarily see much of in this area. That identity has evolved a bit with every curveball we’ve been thrown. There are a lot of neighborhoods that collide here, and once we got our footing, we knew we wanted to create an upscale yet comfortable atmosphere.
HT: How are you preparing for more curveballs this winter?
DF: We’re hoping that we’ll be able to provide more indoor seating, and outside we have heaters and fire pits that will help for a while. Losing the outdoor space scares us a bit, but these are the realities we live with now. There’s a lot of uncertainty. What should we be planning for? Are they going to lower our capacity or should we be getting ready for an increase? From one end of the spectrum to the other, we’re getting as prepared as we can. It’s a fluid situation, you don’t know what the business is going to look like two weeks out.
HT: How has Origlio helped to grow your business?
DS: Our rep, Bryan Tone, has been great. He stops in more than any other rep. And it’s a normal conversation with him, not a sales pitch. He really wants to help the bar out.
DF: We’re heavily involved in local non-profits. Every Monday in November we do a dine and donate and Bryan really helps us with those programs and gives us support. This has been a trying time for restaurants, but it’s also been a trying time for local non-profits, so we try to help as much as we can.
DS: All in all, it’s been a roller coaster, but we’re still here. It says a lot for this neighborhood too. They’re always here to support us. That’s why we want The Rook to be a place where everyone feels welcome.
Note: This interview took place on November 5th • 4001 Cresson St., Philadelphia • 267-323-2906