“I’m a responsible businesswoman. I don't need anything from anyone.”
Asking Gabrielle Mattina a question along the lines of, “Should the federal government be offering some sort of aid package to independent businesses in the country’s food service industry?” received that response imbued with fierce stoicism.
As proprietor of the Gypsy Parlor, Mattina’s fortitude has been her lifeblood, giving her the strength to move into an ailing Grant Street neighborhood and forge a successful business beginning in 2013, well before people were casually throwing the words “hipster” and “urban renaissance” into the same sentence, as if they’d always belonged there.
Born and raised on Buffalo’s West Side, and already deeply experienced in the local bar and bistro business, Mattina was hellbent on creating an eclectic, Bohemian vibe that reflected the diversity of the neighborhood she knew so well.
Offering, as News food editor Andrew Galarneau wrote, “a scratch menu that aims to reflect the ethnic diversity of the neighborhood,” as well as a live music vibe that reflected the same, Mattina and her team built the Gypsy Parlor into a genuine success. The arrival of a pandemic that is running the restaurant and bar industry into the ground at present has done nothing to diminish her fighter’s spirit.
“I’m very fortunate that I own the building that houses the Gypsy Parlor,” Mattina said, with her restaurant closed temporarily. “I bought it cheap, before the neighborhood was on the upswing. I have money saved for a rainy day, so I can afford my mortgage and keep the lights on in these dark times.
“Currently, I’m reorganizing everything. We are rebuilding our chairs and we plan to redo some floors and sanitize deeply. My father (Todd Mattina), who is my partner, is a carpenter. We built this place with very little money and just a lot of hard work, which is why it’s so full of character. We’re excited to get back to basics and use our hands and brains to make the place look better than ever, for when our guests come back.”
Mattina, like so many other proprietors around the country have, felt she had to let employees go.
“The majority of our employees are all full time, so they will be getting unemployment,” she said. “We will welcome all of them back. I own the apartments that house my staff. They are relieved of rent for the month.
“Miraculously, most of them volunteered to come in and clean or reorganize, in small groups or alone. That really touched me. It actually made me cry. I knew that I had their backs no matter what and they had mine. That’s a beautiful thing. I love and appreciate them all so much.”
In the early days of the coronavirus pandemic, when restaurants and their employees were coming to terms with the fact they were about to go dark and the money was about to stop flowing, Mattina mentioned in a social media post she would be offering her assistance to anyone in the community who might need it.
“I did post that, if any elderly or disabled people need food or comfort, I am at their service for free,” she said. “Now is the time where we have a social obligation to help our neighbors. I put my personal number on Facebook and Instagram for the most vulnerable to call upon me for service. My heart is with those who need us.”
It’s abundantly clear Mattina sees the sun emerging on the other side of the rainy day that has surely come.
What does she hope we will have learned as a community when we do eventually emerge from the darkness?
“The crisis has taught us that, truly, nothing matters but your health,” she said.
“It’s a very humbling experience. Despite not doing business at the moment, I am just so thankful that all of my family and friends are OK. I’m praying for those who are not.”