Joe Rosato Jr.

Small Business Owners Employing Creativity to Stay Afloat

NBCUniversal, Inc.

They say when the going gets tough, the tough get creative. Just ask Alex Towery, owner of Towery Electrical in San Rafael. With scant business and nine employees — mostly skilled electricians — he searched his thoughts for a plan to keep them on the payroll. 

So next week instead of wiring homes and installing electrical panels — his electricians will begin utilizing his fleet of work trucks to deliver food and supplies to the elderly and sick.

Towery said the workers will slip on N95 masks and gloves,  and head out to grocery stores to fill shopping lists. The service is free though Towery said he will accept donations for his workers. 

“It’s going to be a very different world I think,” Towery said. “Put the mask on, put the gloves on go out and do grocery shopping. But I think the guys are enthusiastic about it.” 

Towery is among small business owners who are turning to creativity as a means to keep the lights on and the public served, often times shapeshifting their business models to suit the times. 

In San Francisco’s North Beach, famed pizza chef Tony Gemignani added hard-to-find toilet paper to the Italian specialties he sells in his store Giovanni’s. In addition to fresh pasta, olive oil and Italian sodas, Gemignani also added milk, eggs and butter to the shelves — the common items his customers were having trouble finding in big grocery stores. He began offering customers a pizza kit, which included cheese, sauce and a ball of raw dough in a pizza box that they could make at home. 

“It’s been a challenge,” said Gemignani whose thirty businesses across the Bay Area and Nevada are mostly closed or restricted. “It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever been through in business and I’ve been in this business thirty years.” 

Neighbor Adam Richey met Gemignani outside the store, greeting him with an elbow bump as he picked up one of the pizza kits. 

“It’s a little bit of sanity amid all this craziness,” Richey said, “where you have something you’re familiar with and can still get.”

The internationally known pizza chef also implemented changes at his nearby pizza restaurant Tony’s Pizza Napoletana, which along with other restaurants is not allowed to host diners. Instead Gemignani started a pizza valet service where pizzas are delivered to drivers at the curb. His pizza-by-the-slice business is operating next door, employing social distancing practices and increased sanitizing under the city’s new requirements.  

And with California announcing on Friday it will ease restrictions on alcohol sales, Gemignani planned to join businesses selling alcohol to-go. 

“We’re going to be delivering alcohol very soon,” Gemignani said. “Beer, wine, liquor — that’s one people were asking for, which is great.” 

Original Joe’s Italian Restaurant in Daly City was also beginning alcohol-to-go sales — with some speculating California could soon see drive-through booze sales which are common in New Orleans. 

Yet Gemignani worried about how a prolonged closure would impact his future along with businesses across the state. He called on the state government to help small businesses by allowing them to defer payments to landlords. 

After offering his thoughts on the crisis, Gemignani ducked back into his restaurant, washed his hands — dug into a piece of dough to form a perfect pie, which he covered in sauce and cheese. Amid a world where everything seemed upside down, the familiar shaping of dough seemed like an escape into a time most now long for. 

“Pizza’s always one thing that’s been deliverable,” Gemignani said. “So pizza power — pizza strong.”

Contact Us