By Crystal Harrell
The outbreak of COVID-19 has completely changed the way the restaurant business runs its operations, adhering to the strict CDC guidelines promoting social distancing to prevent the spread of the virus. With April usually being a profitable time for local businesses and eateries from the influx of tourists during the Coachella Fest and Stagecoach concert season, the cancellation of those profitable events and limitations on how restaurants run their establishments have made a great dip in the industry’s output.
One restaurant, The Slice, is a New York-style pizzeria in Rancho Mirage that has managed to maintain an active operation as well as give back to the Coachella Valley community during this difficult time. Since opening its doors eleven and a half years ago, The Slice has been a desert hotspot for premium pies. Co-owners Jack Srebnik and Ellen Spencer have adjusted as well as they can to the stifled business during COVID-19.
“We had to close our in-dining section at our restaurant, so we switched to takeout delivery and curbside pick-up. We’ve not only opened up delivery and pick-up items from our menu, but we’ve also opened a corner store as well. We’re selling sauces and produce—things to take home for dinner. We’ve tried to make it a one-stop place so people don’t have to go to grocery stores to get their supplies,” explained Srebnik.
The Slice menu has gradually been modified as business has slowed during the outbreak, taking off items that contain an excess amount of fish that are more expensive and can go bad easily. Besides that modification, the menu has remained more or less the same. An interesting staple of The Slice includes the take-and-bake pizzas available to customers with children who want to make their own pies at home during quarantine.
Pizza has still been the most popular item off the menu, but alternatives like salads, pasta, and subs are also available for pick-up or delivery. The Slice has not only been feeding its loyal customers, but also those fighting in the frontlines at local hospitals treating patients with COVID-19.
“Ellen and I started doing that a few weeks ago because we both had the mindset that we wanted to give back since we have been very fortunate through all this. We go every Monday to Eisenhower Medical Center. We began giving lunches to the ER staff, and then we made contact with the head nurse at the COVID unit, so now we deliver pizza to them as well,” said Srebnik.
Ellen notes how The Slice was given an eight thousand dollar grant by the City of Rancho Mirage, among other local eateries, in order to stay afloat when other businesses across the country face the threat of permanent closure.
“We have been very thankful for what we’ve been given, so we decided to pay it forward. People watch the news at night, and they see how the first-line people at hospitals are fighting this. This is affecting the community and we know we had to do something,” stated Spencer.
While The Slice owners know that the hospital staff is appreciative of the weekly lunch deliveries that they make, Srebnik considers the men and women treating inflicted patients to be the true heroes during the age of COVID-19.
“They thanked us so much, and we just look at ourselves and think…we’ve done nothing. It’s them doing the hard stuff. Every day, they leave their families to go to work on the battle lines. They’re the ones who face this every single day. I know I personally couldn’t do that. You can tell lately that they’ve been so busy that the days have started to run into one another. They see us coming, and they say, ‘oh, it must be Monday because the pizza is here!’ We can’t get paid enough in money for how good we feel when people thank us. All we did is make pizza, they’re saving lives,” said Srebnik.
Although overall business has diminished by at least half of the number of customers that The Slice used to serve before the state-mandated lockdown, Srebnik and Spencer are especially proud of the fact that they have 14 of their 27 staff members still working at the restaurant. Despite the setbacks and limitations, the owners treat their employees as family and recognize that they would not be able to maintain the establishment without them.
“They always step up to the plate to do what has to be done, and they’re so friendly to the customers. Everyone still has an underlying fear of what’s going to happen tomorrow, but they’re great and we love them. They make it all worthwhile for us,” expressed Srebnik.
The Slice still employs their wait staff and they earn their typical wages, but since the removal of dine-in service, they no longer have the opportunity to receive tips. Srebnik shared that there have been customers that have come to the restaurant handing out ten-dollar bills to show their gratitude for the essential workers providing their best efforts during the pandemic. The owner also notices a lot less complaining when people come in to order or pick-up their food.
“I hope the one good thing that comes out of this whole situation is that everyone remembers to be kind to one another. Every day, Ellen and I are thinking about what’s next because the restaurant industry is going to change. There will be some people who will never want to eat at a restaurant again, and some people who will want to return to normalcy—whatever that might be. We want to be there for everyone,” revealed Srebnik.
There are plans to turn The Slice into a restaurant deli in the future with more grab-and-go food options and ingredients that customers can just buy and take home to cook. Despite uncertainty about what lies ahead, The Slice owners continue to prioritize their staff, clients, and family during the ever-changing climate of COVID-19.
To place an order for pick-up or delivery, visit The Slice website at theslicepizza.com or call 760-202-3122.