Yesterday, Lidia Bastianich was in town lending her time and fame to the KCPT pledge drive and promoting her restaurant. I stopped by Lidia's Restaurant in the afternoon right after she had finished a luncheon with more than 100 of her fans. As the last of her lunch guests left, a small lady showing a little cleavage came out and there was no mistaking her. Lidia looks exactly like she does on the cover on her cookbooks.
"Welcome, welcome, welcome. Ask me anything you like," she said in her slight accent. So I did.
I wanted to know how the economy is affecting her restaurants,
especially her three in New York. "People still go out but not as often," she said. "There's this
apprehension as everyone is waiting. For a while everyone exaggerated
and now they want to see what's going to happen. But if people feel
trust and value and quality then they will still come." Lidia handed me
a sheet with the 10 dinners for under $10 I've previously mentioned.
"That's why we have specials we're running. They don't have to spend
what they would have spent but it's still, 'Let's have a good time.'"
is all about other people enjoying themselves and good times but it's
difficult to see how she ever enjoys them herself. At a sprightly 62, she's as busy as ever. She's still personally involved
in all of her restaurants and there's another series of her television
show Lidia's Italy premiering in September. While her celebrity has provided some
insulation against the recession at her restaurants, the charities and
non-profits she cares deeply about are seriously hurting; she said she's
handling "more requests than ever for fund-raisers and helping out
anyway I can." As I was posting this article, she was in the air back to
New York where she said she wasn't even going to drop her luggage before getting on a
plane to Italy for a wine convention.
Still, her mind was focused on a new project. "Kansas City
could be a convention destination. I'd be willing to use my persona to
make people aware of just what it has. Not me alone, of course, but
imagine if we brought in Michael Smith." Lidia's director of
sales, Michael Naegele piped in: "Rob Dalzell, Colby Garrelts, Debbie
Gold. That's three James Beard award winners in a three-block radius."
Bastianich nodded. "Listen, we get together and say, 'Hey,
something's really cooking in Kansas City' and bring awareness that
there's a lot more here than barbecue. The city is vibrant, has plenty
of hotel rooms and the potential of growth. All these elements. We need
to go out and make it happen and attract conventions." Bastianich had just laid out a
reasonable plan in the space of three
sentences. Hello, Convention and Visitors Association?
Bastianich likes to keep her employees as busy as she is, and laid out
no less than six events that the restaurant will be featuring in the
next two months. Lidia even hinted that she might appear at one or two
of them. I wouldn't be surprised if she attended them all, cleaned the
dining room afterward and sent every guest a handwritten note.
walked out of the dining room I could hear her voice behind me: "All
right, what's next for me?" A lot is next for Bastianich.