By Ginger DeShaney
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, management at Sullivan’s at Castle Island rallied to keep serving its loyal customers.
“It’s been pretty good for a bad year,” said Kizito Paganini, director of operations for Sullivan’s, a South Boston institution. “We made the best of a bad time.”
Paganini started with Sullivan’s in January 2020. The restaurant opened in February as usual but by March 13had to shut its doors because of the pandemic.
“We needed time to close down and rearrange how we do business,” Paganini said. Management discussed safety measures, social distancing, flow, and new ways of doing things.
That creative process came up with:
- A new way to order in person;
- Online ordering;
- Catering services.
Sully’s opened back up in May with strict safety measures in place. And in a break from tradition, and in an effort to keep full-timers on as long as possible, Sully’s will stay open until Dec. 31, weather permitting, with half-priced hot dogs (a particular favorite of the many wiener-loving dogs who visit the island with their humans).
“I can’t say we had the best year, but we were graced with some business,” Paganini said. “We were able to keep a lot of staff on and provide for the community.”
The ordering process no longer allows for customers to come in through the front door and then hang around inside for their food. Customers now line up outside on the shamrock dots Sully’s has placed 6 feet apart. Customers come in the side door, place their orders, then go outside and wait on the dots in the pickup area.
A “runner” then comes out to deliver each customer’s order, providing that personal touch, Paganini said. Because of the addition of runners, Sully’s was able to hire more people.
“We’ve gotten positive feedback from customers,” Paganini said about the new ordering process. “It’s less chaotic. We’ve added another layer of service.”
Because of the success of the new ordering process, Sully’s will keep it in place when the pandemic is over. “People have been very positive about it,” said Paganini.
Sully’s changed its computer system to create an online ordering platform. Customers can order online (https://www.sullivanscastleisland.com/order-online/), then come in to pick up their food. If customers are not comfortable coming into the building, Sully’s staff will bring it to their cars.
Sully’s new catering program (https://www.sullivanscastleisland.com/catering/) is offered year-round. Twenty-four hours’ notice is required. If the amount is less than $150, the customer must pick up the order. If the order is more than $150, Sully’s staff will drop it off in the new catering van.
“It’s a really great catering menu,” said Paganini. “And it’s priced perfectly, I think.”
The catering menu includes breakfast platters, finger sandwich platters, tote lunches, hot box lunches, and more.
Sully’s offered limited edition DIY hot dog boxes with 24 SnapDogs, buns, and all the favorite toppings. Paganini said he will look into offering shipping on these DIY boxes so people who don’t live nearby anymore can get a taste of home.
And as always, Sully’s gift cards and merchandise are available, from hoodies and shirts to dog leashes and now face masks.
Because of the pandemic and fewer tourists, overall numbers are down. “But we are so grateful for our loyal fanbase,” Paganini said. “They’ve helped us through.”
Paganini said the Sullivan family’s true values seep into the business and “people feel good about that.”
Going forward, Sully’s will continue to be creative, “but we’ll never get away from who we are.”
The Sullivan family opened the restaurant in 1951 to provide quality food at reasonable prices in a family-friendly atmosphere. And it’s still that way today.
Paganini came to Sullivan’s after working in management for Back Bay Restaurant Group, Salvatore’s, Tasty Burger, and Border Cafe. He heard about the great opportunity at Boston’s most iconic restaurant and applied.
“It’s the best job I’ve ever had,” he said about working for the Sullivan family. “It’s about who you work for. I work for really great people. They are inspirational to me.”
During the time between the Dec. 31 closing and the Feb. 27 reopening — when Southie residents will be longing for their first Sully’s burgers, dogs, and seafood of 2021 — Paganini will be busy.
In addition to hiring people for next season, Panagini will be getting Sullivan’s ready to be part of Hub Hall, a food hall style venue at 80 Causeway St. that has been put on hold during the pandemic. The concept, said Paganini, is to showcase the best of Boston. The Sullivan’s restaurant at Hub Hall will focus on seafood.
According to www.hubhallboston.com, Hub Hall, created and operated by Patina Restaurant Group, will be the one-stop authentically Boston destination for city dwellers and visitors alike to experience 18 diverse yet approachable food and drink options. No open date has been set.
As for Sullivan’s at Castle Island, mark your calendars for Feb. 27, 2021, the unofficial Southie holiday when Sully’s reopens for the season!