“I’m hoping this series shows people how important these places are and how crucial it is to support local, independent restaurants in the future.”
Restaurant people, as any longtime chef, cook, server, or bartender will happily tell you, are a very particular breed. We work long, odd hours doing a ton of physical and emotional labor in a system and economy that doesn’t always reward or respect our experience and skill—and we keep going back.
From the outside, it’s easy to see only the flaws in the industry, in the hours we work, the personalities we encounter, some of the standards we accept, and that’s why I write about this weird little world so often: It’s an incredibly beautiful place if you know what to look for.
Which is why Ray Fuschetti’s debut documentary, Restaurants Remade, is such a goddamn delight. Fuschetti, a multimedia content developer and producer with NBC Universal, previously worked in breaking news and as an independent music journalist, has never tied on an apron or been required to own non-slip shoes. Yet he immediately knew the restaurants fighting to stay open and alive during the pandemic were what he wanted to focus on when making the leap from long-time passion project documentarian to broadcasted filmmaker.
To say I covered the plights and pivots of local restaurants during the pandemic is a bit of an understatement; I think it’s the only thing I wrote about in 2020, but Restaurants Remade brought to light new projects and pivots for even jaded old me. The series is not just a pleasant surprise but an incredibly important addition to the ongoing story of how local restaurants and bars are continuing to adapt, change, and survive.
I recently spoke with Ray to talk about the project, his process, the importance of independent restaurants, and what he hopes viewers will take away from his in-depth look into the work, the passion, and the creativity of Boston-area hospitality.
What was it that drew you to highlighting bars and restaurants for a pandemic-focused documentary series?
We wanted to focus on innovation and how people adapted. During the early stages of the pandemic we all lost our routines, some of us lost our jobs, but restaurants lost everything. They lost revenue, staff, everything that makes a restaurant a restaurant was taken away. What I learned is the ones that made it had to learn to operate very differently. They changed their whole business model, and that was incredibly risky. The things that worked for some of them were totally out-of-the-box ideas, and I think it’s really important to document those ideas and the resiliency of these businesses.
I love that, and it’s so true. Given that things were fairly re-opened when Restaurants Remade aired, what’s still important about the series? Why will this still resonate with people today?
To me this series is important right now because it gives these restaurants a voice when they might not have had one. We all saw the restaurant industry being hit the hardest during the beginning of the pandemic, but unless you were there for it day-to-day it was difficult to understand just how bad it was. It was shocking to me to learn how quickly a place can go under, just how thin those margins are. And, also, when these things are taken away from us, how drastically that changes the quality of life.
The people I spoke to said often that restaurants aren’t just a place to eat, they’re a place to escape your day, a place to gather, a place to connect, to socialize, to get your mind off things. I never realized how much I took them for granted and how much they meant beyond the food. Without restaurants we’re losing a place to be. Filming this series really drove home how people in the industry aren’t just serving people and clocking out, they’re so passionate it’s crazy. I’m hoping this series shows people how important these places are and how crucial it is to support local, independent restaurants in the future.
Coming back from that, people know they have to continue to work harder, leaner, more creatively. I’m always going to notice now how many restaurant employees are wearing different hats and doing more than one job.
Of the changes that you filmed and experienced, what are you hoping stays and becomes common practice?
I want to keep outdoor dining. It offers restaurants an advantage at a time when they’re bouncing back and it’d be incredibly unfair to change the rules now. Same with to-go cocktails. Keeping these advantages will help people recover and maintain revenue should indoor dining restrictions happen again.
What do you think surprised you most about this project?
When we designed this series on paper it was easy. Everything looks easy on paper, but when we got out there the people in this were such great characters, if you will. They were just so open, so emotional. It was clear right away that this is so much more than revenue and a business.
I personally think this project is a unique spin on what a restaurant series can be; it’s a disaster movie story arc: the people involved start at rock bottom and learn how to survive and come out the other side. This isn’t a cooking show, you know?
The visuals are incredible, it’s giving you something beautiful to look at. I was fortunate enough to work with Barry Littlefield who shot the majority of this project and is someone I’ve been collaborating with for the better part of 10 years. He’s amazing and really brought it and went hard with this series.
Ultimately, I was just shocked by how much I was learning during filming, about the industry, about the people, about just how much work and passion a restaurant takes.
What’s up next?
I just want to tell stories that make an impact and give a sense of hope. One of my favorite things about storytelling is not just doing the story but that along the way you realize you’re learning so much and that makes me want to keep going.
We have no shortage of ideas, there’s a lot of stories we want to tell. In the news right now there’s a real opportunity to evolve how we do local storytelling and how those local stories can be made relevant to a national audience. We want to do our part to reinvent what local storytelling can be.
Is there anything I missed or that you want to make sure readers know?
Whether you think you’re interested in the restaurant industry or not, this is really a movie about passion, creativity, and perseverance. It was so inspiring to learn from these people, and I hope they know how much I appreciate the opportunity to share that passion. This series became really special to me along the way, it evolved in a way that made it very personal to me.
I feel like I’m involved in the restaurant industry now for sure.
The five-part documentary series Restaurants Remade is available online and on Roku & Apple TV.
Haley is an AAN Award-winning columnist for DigBoston and Mel magazine and has contributed to publications including the Boston Globe and helped found Homicide Watch Boston. She has spearheaded and led several Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism investigations including a landmark multipart series about the racialized history of liquor licensing in Massachusetts, and for three years wrote the column Terms of Service about restaurant industry issues from the perspective of workers.