Justin Urso, 32, has a stellar resume: Catalyst, Deuxave, and L’Espalier in Boston; Del Posto and Maze in New York City, where he worked under Gordon Ramsay. But nothing could have prepared him to open The Dial inside Central Square’s new 907 Main Hotel in September, when few people are visiting town and locals are reluctant to dine out. The restaurant has a global menu, though, and Urso is banking on people traveling to try his food.
You’re the chef at a hotel restaurant that opened during a pandemic. How’s that been going?
Well, I mean, it’s been quite an ordeal. Just before COVID-19 hit, we were probably about three weeks to a month away from opening. And then COVID happened, and obviously our site got shut down. And then, once construction was allowed to resume, we went from being able to have five to 10 people working in a space together to only having one person in a room at a time, so then that delayed our construction.
So we’re open now, and we couldn’t be happier. I know times are tough, but as our owner has said, “Sometimes the best thing to do to get through a storm is to drive right through it.” So that’s what we’re doing; we’re full steam ahead and making the best of a bad situation. Opening has certainly been challenging with COVID, with all of the added safety measures — not that they’re a challenge, but it’s something new to get used to and train everyone on. . . . On top of all of the added stresses of opening a restaurant, it’s adding one more on top, but I think our team has done a fantastic job.
What sort of safety protocols did you have to learn? I think people would be really curious to know.
Aside from obviously wearing gloves and masks at all times, we stop service every hour to wipe down and sanitize all surfaces, which you can imagine during a restaurant service has its challenges, but safety is the number-one priority. So we literally stop every hour on the hour and sanitize every surface in the kitchen, and any high-touch points like the slicer, fry handles, underneath any refrigerator doors. All of our employees have to do wellness checks when they walk in the door. They get a temperature taken and fill out a questionnaire every single day.
Also, we recently installed some air-filtration systems. They’re from a company called Aura Air, and they’ve got four different types of filters: a HEPA filter, a copper filter, a UV filter, and an ion sterilization process. So our space is about as safe as you can make it during COVID, but it’s certainly all been things that we’ve had to learn.
What’s your your take on indoor dining? That’s a source of debate and concern for people. How you think