Alumni Stories: The Ins and Outs of a Restaurant Owner during COVID-19

Alessia Bellusci is a local business owner and a Rundle College Alumna, class of 2007. As we all know this has been an extremely difficult year for most individuals in the workplace. I had the chance to interview Alessia and discuss her personal experiences in the restaurant industry this past year. As well, she had the chance to reflect on her experiences as a former student at Rundle.      

Alessia Bellusci ’07 College | Story By: Kiara Hun ’22 College

Published previously in the 2021 issue of The Ascent, Rundle alumni magazine.

Since Alessia grew up in the Rundle community, she was able to create close-knit relationships with her classmates, friends, and teachers. Some of her best-loved memories were the school trips she took part in, including the annual ski trip and Edgewater. Years later, she thanks Rundle for the lifelong friendships and long-lasting relationships she has created. Since graduating, she was able to speak to her greatest takeaways from Rundle.

“The greatest takeaway from the Rundle environment would be the level of compassion the teachers were able to give the students. I was able to reach out for help whenever. I always felt supported by the teachers. They were always able to pay attention and understand my strengths.” She further added how Rundle felt like a home, not a typical massive high school. One teacher that stood out for Alessia during her high school years was Mrs. Mann. “She was my most memorable teacher. She understood the way I learned and helped me with what I needed to be successful.” 

Up until university, Alessia was indecisive about her future endeavours. However, during her four years at Mount Royal University, where she received a Bachelor of Arts Degree, she was able to take courses such as human resources and sociology which guided her into her career path. Right out of university, Alessia went straight to work at her local family restaurant, Mercato. She learnt everything from the back-end to the front-end of the restaurant industry, inside and out.

Although Alessia left the family business for two years to work in a retail management role, she came back to Mercato as she enjoyed being engaged in her family business. I asked if she had always wanted to take over Mercato, and she responded by saying, “I had so many plans of doing other things and I still do. I would love to develop a side business with fashion, social media, and marketing. I was always good with business and I understood it at a very young age”. However, she was lucky that this opportunity, to be successful in the restaurant industry, fell into her lap.

Alessia added what she loves most about her work, “I love building customer relationships and a foundation of business for the past 15 years. I love interacting with all of our customers who come to the restaurant.” She added further that her greatest challenges as a business owner “were having to constantly evolve with the way the world has been changing and modernizing the business. My family has had to adapt to many new ways of doing things, especially during COVID-19.”

Since the outbreak of COVID-19, Mercato, and many other restaurants, have struggled to fill their establishments to full capacity. Many restaurants rely on each other to drive sales and keep things running and with the mandated restrictions, Mercato has had to adjust and adapt to constant changes. Alessia added that in these times of crisis, they are lucky to have a fresh Italian market that helps with their takeout division to maintain sales. As well, she has faced the challenge of providing her staff and employees with sustainable hours. In turn, she has, unfortunately, had to conduct many layoffs. She added, “It is always difficult on the back-end of things when we can’t give people their full hours. I almost feel a sense of guilt as it is emotionally taxing even though it is not in my control.”

Alessia noted that listening to the needs of her customers and adapting to new ideas has been a great way of increasing their sales. She added that “This experience has been a huge learning curve for me.” Regardless of the crisis at hand, Alessia elaborated on the challenges she faces day-to-day. “It’s hardest to maintain spirits and not let the staff see how hard it is behind the scenes.” She added how she always does her best to create a positive and uplifting atmosphere at the restaurant. As a result, Alessia has learned that maintaining a stable foundation and a quality product is most beneficial to the company’s image and reputation. As a team, her management and staff have learned to work together and communicate effectively in order to come up with new ideas and support one another.

During these times, she added that it is so important for them to maintain their standard and quality by staying true to who they are. She referred to this as a trickle-down effect. If the company remains positive, customers will come back knowing that the business is reliable and confident.

On a more personal note, Alessia loves to stay active and maintain a healthy lifestyle in order to manage the stress and pressures of an uncertain future. Alessia said that she would not have changed her career path even if she would have known the challenges. She added, “The number of things I have learned is amazing for progressing the business and learning to adapt as the world changes. As a family we are overcoming one of the hardest times in the past 50 years”.

Since being at Mercato for many years, she mentioned that up until now, the restaurant did not have a takeout division. During COVID-19, their fresh market and takeout division have helped them maintain the business. As for future endeavours Alessia mentioned that she would love to expand Mercato to other cities across Canada and maybe into the US. In the meantime, she would like to focus on expanding their divisions and restaurants in Calgary. Alessia added, “I would love to maintain the family business in the city as it is a rooted and well-established gem that has been here forever. For the next 25-50 years, I would love the heart of the Italian city to be here”.