Casa Santi: The Pizzeria That Delivers Against All Odds

Opening a restaurant during COVID proved difficult but not impossible. Now, it's all about survival.

Tomás Bradshaw and his partners at Casa Santi Pizzeria in Santos did the impossible: they opened a restaurant during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic that raged and continues to rage in Lisbon. As you can imagine, the obstacles in their path were substantial, so Atlas sat down with the owner and manager of the restaurant to find out just how hard it was and what they had to overcome to bring Santos some of the best, most authentic Italian pizzas it has had to date. 

Duarte Costa, Tomás’ associate, had been trying to start a restaurant in its current location in Santos square, right next to the park, for the past two years.Tomás joined the project last October to manage the restaurant, and ended up investing in it as well for partial ownership, despite the risks associated with the restaurant business in the current precarious climate.

Tomás (left) and the team at Casa Santi courtesy of their Facebook page.

“Everything that could have happened, happened, especially trying to keep some sort of a schedule. Water, gas, and electricity were challenges to get sorted. It always takes longer than you think anyway, but with COVID, suppliers were failing, the electricity was failing, workers were ill, metal-smiths got sick, and basically everyone got COVID eventually. Thankfully I didn’t get it, and I got fully vaccinated at the end of July.”  

The restaurant does Roman-style pizza with a thin base, made from dough with a short fermentation period of 12-48 hours, using 95% entirely Italian produce (cheese, flour, proteins, etc.), all baked in a wood-burning oven. Aside from importing Italian ingredients, Casa Santi has partnerships with Portuguese coffee and beer suppliers. Pre-COVID, installing taps and getting tables and chairs from either of the two Portuguese companies would have been done the next day, but in some cases, according toTomás, it took two months to get it done. 

“The bureaucracy in Portugal isn’t the most effective, but with COVID, it was even worse — it was extremely unpredictable. Lockdown measures forced us to take three steps back after we had finally taken one step forward. In one case, we filled the fridges, filled the wood, ordered the mozzarella, and then [the government] made us close for take-away and delivery only at the weekends, after 3:30 pm.”

ButTomás says things are beginning to turn around. “If everything goes well, September will see a 75% vaccination rate, giving restaurants more room to operate. As soon as the certificate measure is taken away, I am confident that things will start to go back to normal.”

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