It was March 16 when Nancy Bruce realized how bad things had gotten. The catering orders at Lambrusco’z stopped. Customers were staying home.
“I thought, ‘Thirty-five years in business and this is what is going to take us out?’” Bruce says.
The next morning she said to herself, “Belly up!” She spent the day thinking about how to make this new reality work, adding to her already expansive dinner take-out menu and freezer case.
When we spoke to Bruce over the summer, business was picking up. Although Bruce says she doesn’t expect business to be the same as it once was.
“We’re rethinking how we’re doing everything,” she says.
Catering, which once made up half of the business, looks different. People are more likely to call in a catering order for four than they are for a big group.
In some ways, Bruce was better prepared for the pandemic than most. Lambrusco’z was already known for its big take-out menu and cases of casseroles, like lasagna, chicken-spinach enchiladas and breakfast casserole. Bruce says the casserole business is still strong, but down to a low roar from what it was in the spring.
Lambrusco’z also is known for a daily changing dinner case, full of fresh foods ready to heat at home. Think green beans, meatloaf, mashed potatoes and roasted vegetables.
Bruce says the pandemic caused people to reset priorities in many aspects of life, including where they eat.
“People want local more than ever,” she says.
Lambrusco’z has been in Tulsa for 35 years. Could you have imagined that when you first began?
I started cooking for friends and family while I was in college. After graduation, I moved to Tulsa and worked in retail, and still cooked for my friends. I knew making a living in the restaurant/catering business was a real long shot, but my mom and I decided to give it try. Had I thought for a minute I would be in business this long, I think we would have chosen an easier name.
Do you enjoy cooking at home?
I love cooking everywhere. I cook at home, especially on the weekends. When we vacation with our friends, I cook. I do all holidays for my family, and we do a big Thanksgiving gathering every year. I love getting together with my chef friends to cook.
What three things are always in your refrigerator?
I always have milk, butter (good butter) and eggs.
Do you have any guilty pleasure foods?
Fresh baked bread with Kerrygold butter is my guilty pleasure.