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Agava back open for indoor dining

Co-Owner Vicki Brous explains how staff have taken precautions like installing shields between tables and the wood-fire oven to protect diners and staff.

Agava, located just outside of Collegetown on Ithaca’s East Hill, usually takes a break during the winter season for employees to relax and enjoy the holidays. However, with the rise in COVID-19 cases late December last year, the owners of Agava decided to keep the doors closed longer.

Vicki and Gregar Brous, the husband and wife duo that co-own Agava, closed the restaurant Dec. 18, with plans to open back up on Jan. 22.

“We talked to the patrons who would come into the restaurant,” Vicki Brous said, “and they were more and more uncomfortable with coming inside for dining.”

Along with the increase in cases as a result of the Omicron variant, Brous states that the winter season itself is a trying time for restaurants, so the decision was made to stay closed longer.

However, while the restaurant was closed for indoor dining, employees were hard at work to transform the restaurant to something new for a successful opening on Mar. 2.

A Brand New Menu

With the extended closure, Vicki and Gregar decided that it was a good opportunity to give the menu a fresh makeover, with new and old favorites added on.

After surveying over 5,000 patrons across the Ithaca area, Vicki explains how she wanted the menu to be simple and delicious for everyone to enjoy.

“We really worked hard to make an accessible restaurant,” Brous said. “During the pandemic, we changed a lot… we really lost some of that design. We were reacting and not being proactive.”

Being a farm-to-table restaurant, Brous states that the menu will continue to be refreshed over time as new crops and produce are harvested throughout the year, but she still wanted the menu to be simple.

“What we did, is we simplified the food and the ingredients. We want the food to stand on its own,” Vicki Brous said.

Chef Andre Crawley prepares whipped potatoes for the dinner service. This side is part of the seasonal menu which will be replaced with another fresh crop when the next harvest occurs.

More hours, more stress?

Before the pandemic, Agava was open everyday with two services everyday. Now, since reopening, Agava is open for 4 dinner services and two brunch services, with hopes to open more hours as COVID-19 cases decline.

Now that Agava is back open for its normal operation, stress levels among staff and owners may have been expected to increase.

Chef Andre Crawley does notice a slight increase in his stress level, but he works through it.

“You just got to be able to take it and manage it,” Crawley said.

Rather than being stressed though, Vicki Brous said that the staff was mostly scared. With COVID-19 cases fluctuating, it affected the hours of the restaurant and people didn’t know what was going to happen.

Staff members continue to wear masks while working. Despite the uncertainty that the pandemic has caused, many employees are happy to be back.

Crawley highlighted the importance of being cautious and practicing safety measures, like wearing masks and social distancing when possible.

For Gregar Brous, though, it’s quite the opposite.

“I’m not sure about the stress level,” Gregar starts, “It seems like that should loosen as things open up.”

Opening indoor dining was a relief for Gregar. Being the owner of Agava, Ithaca Bakery and Collegetown Bagels, he has had to let go of almost 400 employees.

Vicki noticed that he has aged over the past two years. And even though they were able to hire back many of the employees, both claim that they are just tired.

Hopes for the future

The first week of opening was focused on only indoor dining, but Vicki and Gregar are planning to open up online ordering afterwards.

And with the weather starting to get warmer in the spring season, the husband and wife duo hope to utilize their outdoor seating and spaces, like the patio in the back of the restaurant and outdoor seating in the front.

During the warmer months, the outdoor patio is filled with guests enjoying food and a drink from the bar.

Events like Salsa Night is another hope that the owners hope to bring back when cases go down.

“We have a really strong, resilient team, who are able to adapt,” Vicki says. “Thinking about how much we learned about streamlining our operations… we really had to take a hard look into every part of the business.”

With the drastic changes during the pandemic, the Brous’s believe that they can operate the business more effectively.

“I think that the challenges that the pandemic has put on the table for the restaurant industry are going to take a long time to go away,” Gregar said. “I don’t think that the new-normal will go back to the way it used to be.”

For now, Gregar is looking forward to retiring.

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