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Couple uses morale-focused approach to keep restaurant afloat during COVID

Posted at 2:26 PM, Dec 21, 2020

Ten years ago, in downtown Chicago, the humble beginnings of a love story began to flourish in one of the city’s most acclaimed high-end restaurants, Alinea.

One of the kitchen’s chefs, Matt Chasseur, had taken a liking to one of the dining room’s hostesses, Ashley Fees, and before long, the two had started dating.

In 2018, the couple got married. Then, they had a child.

Then a second.

Then a third.

Life plans started changing, and the family of five moved from their Chicago apartment to a home in the middle of the mountains in Colorado.

Matt started working on a ranch, preparing meals for visitors who would come to enjoy the vast landscapes and mountains of the state’s western slope.

All of this--the moving, malleability, open communication--has helped the couple tackle their partnership’s biggest challenge yet: COVID-19.

During the summer of 2019, the two bought a small space on Palisade, Colorado’s Main Street, and they turned it into a fine dining experience the town of 2,700 had never seen before.

Matt says most people who first came in had no idea the new restaurant, Peche, had replaced the old one that used to be there as the couple tried to establish a customer base.

Then, in March, like so many other businesses across the country, Peche had to close its indoor dining because of COVID.

Employees were let go, vendors were cut, and the couple had to find out how to keep their new venture running.

They applied for a PPP loan and were approved, but things were still a struggle until the duo started drawing from their past experiences as a way to help come up with solutions.

At Matt’s previous restaurant, The Ranch, single meals were prepared for large groups, so instead of offering a wide range of options each night for takeout or delivery at Peche, the Chasseur’s decided to cook only one meal and make it absolutely delicious, as well as nutritious.

“Your [body] is going to fight a very hard fight,” said Matt. “That was one thing that was very important to us: making sure that we were producing food that was not only delicious but helps boost your immune system.”

Employees were also willing to help out in any capacity they could. At Alinea, Matt and Ashley were accustomed to a high-energy experience full of top-flight chefs who enacted strict parameters.

It helped get the restaurant the acclaimed success it enjoys today, but Matt and Ashley also noticed it burnt-out employees, which is why they gave their employees at Peche more freedom to enjoy their lives outside the kitchen.

In turn, the couple has seen loyalty from its crew.

“In Chicago, you were in a kitchen with 25 other cooks and everyone had specific tasks,” said Matt. “You walk into this [current] environment and you’re like, ‘I don’t know how all this will get done,’ and then you look around and everyone is willing to jump in and dive in.”

The moves have allowed Matt and Ashley to consolidate staff, cut costs, and try to give back in any way their restaurant can.

“We’re going to take our best shot at this,” said Matt. “Everyone has invested so much in us so we’re making sure we’re investing in them as well.”