Chef Erin Shambura and wine director Joe Campanale joined forces to open Fausto in the Prospect Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn at the end of 2017. Together, they paired seasonally inspired, regional Italian dishes with an expertly curated wine list, drawing from their experiences working together at the West Village’s famed L’Artusi, but making the new spot their own in an intimate setting. And it worked.
Fausto took over the beloved Franny’s space — a place The New Yorker once called “a perfect Brooklyn restaurant” — and it quickly took on a life of its own. Eater critic Robert Sietsema called it “one of Brooklyn’s most promising new meals” in one of Fausto’s first reviews, where “every bite [of a whole roasted porgy] was bliss” and “all the [wine] selections there are good and also interesting.”
As the Fausto duo entered the third year of operation, they had big plans: expanding wine offerings, hosting more winemaker dinners, and increasing staff benefits such as educational opportunities and training.
But then, of course, things changed.
Campanale started hearing of COVID-19 and its impact on restaurants in China in early February, but at the time, his mind was engrossed with another issue. “We had been fully consumed with the news of the Trump wine tariffs at the time — and given the potential impact on the industry domestically, it seemed like it was more of an imminent threat than something happening on the other side of the world,” he said. “Boy were we wrong.”
Like numerous restaurateurs across the country, Shambura and Campanale followed the similar path of temporary closure to offering expanded delivery and now, serving as a specialty grocery and wine store. Through it all, they’ve tried to do what’s best for the health and safety of themselves, their employees, and the public, all while juggling the financial success of the restaurant. As part of that fight to stay afloat, Fausto is currently offering ready-to-eat meals of housemade pasta and specialty products for Fausto to Go, as well as participating in the Resy at Home Specials program for takeout options.
But everyone’s safety is paramount.
“It’s been important for us from the very beginning to stay fluent on the ever-changing regulatory updates and city-wide statistics in order to prioritize the safety and security of our staff and patrons,” Campanale said. “That continues to be our top priority throughout the reopening.”
Even over the course of reporting this story, the city’s mandates changed, further delaying indoor dining. Once again, the team had to make changes. As the call for people to stay home and out of dining rooms has increased, particularly as of late, Campanale believes that the biggest issue the industry will have to face is “rebuilding the confidence of our staff and patrons.”
And in an ideal world, that would include a “total revamp of the way restaurant operators compensate and take care of our employees,” he said, echoing other restaurateurs.
“Most restaurants operate on such slim margins, that even if you have the desire to do things like provide healthcare for your staff — which, personally, I would love to do — for so many of us, it’s not feasible because of the cost of doing business in New York City.”
Yet through it all, there’s hope.
“As a life-long New Yorker, I’ve weathered my fair share of challenges including 9/11, the 2008 financial crisis, Hurricane Sandy and now, COVID,” Campanale said. “New Yorkers have always persevered. This time has forced us to be more introspective of how we do things on a number of levels. I remain hopeful that this current downturn is only temporary and the industry will get through this by joining together and operating in a way that is smarter, safer, stronger, and more inclusive.”
This week (July 6-12), the special at Fausto is as follows:
Italian Comfort by Fausto ($80, serves two; additional $40 for a bottle of wine): Housemade focaccia bread; mixed market greens with Caesar dressing, parmesan, and croutons; bucatini all’Amatriciana and Pecorino Romano; bittersweet chocolate budino with vanilla whipped mascarpone and chocolate cookie crumble. Available Wed.-Sun.