One-On-One: An interview with Lenny Martinelli, co-owner of Three Leaf Concepts

Each month, BizWest asks a business leader to participate in a question and answer feature to help shed light on a business topic, an industry or add insight to a field of endeavor. This month, Lenny Martinelli, co-owner of Three Leaf Concepts, a restaurant group that includes Boulder Dushanbe Teahouse, Chautauqua Dining Hall, Leaf Vegetarian Restaurant, The Huckleberry, Three Leaf Farm and Zucca Italian Ristorante responded to BizWest questions. This interview has been lightly edited for length and content.

BizWest: It’s been a challenging year for folks in many industries, but few have faced the kind of challenges that the food and beverage industry has. So, first of all, how are you holding up as we (hopefully) emerge from the pandemic?

Martinelli: Needless to say it has been quite challenging with a year long of radically changing conditions. We are holding up fine and are now trying to navigate the full reopening of all our concepts.

BizWest: Your family operates a variety of food and drink businesses, from restaurants, to a tea shop, to an events venue on a farm. Is there a particular venture that withstood the pandemic with particular resilience? Was there a business that proved more vulnerable?

Martinelli: Each venue did indeed experience its own set of difficulties. Our tea company did quite well as it is an online platform, which made it a natural for purchasing the products. The Farm had a good growth year but unfortunately our restaurants weren’t open to utilize and maximize the production. We were able to utilize the end of season storage vegetables such as winter squash through April. One of our farm’s goals is to harvest from the farm to the restaurants 12 months a year, so we indeed were successful with this. We did find that our Italian concept, Zucca in Louisville and Leaf, our vegetarian concept in Boulder, were able to navigate and attract the take-out business that helped to sustain the concepts. We did though have all of our concepts open and in operation for most of the pandemic. Some did better than others.

BizWest: Did you have to downsize or furlough employees over the last year? 

Martinelli: We did have to downsize. Our business at its best during the pandemic was 50% of normal. We did try to bring as many of our employees back but due to other circumstances many did not want to return during the pandemic.

BizWest: Some in the hospitality industry have expressed concerns about their ability to hire new employees due to the availability of unemployment insurance payments. Have you found this to be the case in your businesses? 

Martinelli: Yes. It’s a bit of a nightmare. To have kept things rolling, staying open and trying to keep staff working only to find out that they won’t come back is a bit unnerving. It’s as difficult as it was in the beginning, maybe harder. Everyone wants us to be open and get back to normal but the latest stimulus unemployment plan has actually been a deterrent for staff returning to work. They are making lots of free money.  

BizWest: During the pandemic, many people took up hobbies such as gardening, herb cultivation, at-home cooking, pickling and canning. Three Leaf Farm offers workshops on these sorts of topics — do you expect them to remain popular as people are more able to get out of the house for entertainment and dining? 

Martinelli: I do think that the programs we offer are interesting, fun and educational. People are always interested in those things.

BizWest: What are you most looking forward to this summer as life gets back to normal? 

Martinelli: Right now I’m not looking too far forward. I’m not sure what “getting back to normal” is going to be. It’s been one change and crisis after another. We are just trying to get through day to day and dealing with this staffing crisis. Perhaps by next year we can find some sense of balance.

Each month, BizWest asks a business leader to participate in a question and answer feature to help shed light on a business topic, an industry or add insight to a field of endeavor. This month, Lenny Martinelli, co-owner of Three Leaf Concepts, a restaurant group that includes Boulder Dushanbe Teahouse, Chautauqua Dining Hall, Leaf Vegetarian Restaurant, The Huckleberry, Three Leaf Farm and Zucca Italian Ristorante responded to BizWest questions. This interview has been lightly edited for length and content.

BizWest: It’s been a challenging year for folks in many industries, but few have faced the kind of challenges that the food and beverage industry has. So, first of all, how are you holding up as we (hopefully) emerge from the pandemic?

Martinelli: Needless to say it has been quite challenging with a year long of radically changing conditions. We are holding up fine and are now trying to navigate the full reopening of all our concepts.

BizWest: Your family operates a variety of food and drink businesses, from restaurants, to a tea shop, to an events venue on a farm. Is there a particular venture that withstood the pandemic with particular resilience? Was there a business that proved more vulnerable?

Martinelli: Each venue did indeed experience its own set of difficulties. Our tea company did quite well as it is an online platform, which made it a natural for purchasing the products. The Farm had a good growth year but unfortunately our restaurants weren’t open to utilize and maximize the production. We were able…