By Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Scott Wichmann, CNE-CNA-C6F Public Affairs
– On a Thursday in late May, the NSA Naples food court is abuzz with activity for the first time in months. Physically distanced groups of mask-wearing families enjoy diverse food options provided by vendors who have resumed service operations previously suspended by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The bustling food court is a welcome sight, offering a visual reassurance of the Command’s gradual return to normal functions.
But for the Italian food service employees of the Spinz restaurant in the Strikers Bowling Center just across the street, pandemic or no pandemic, it’s just another day on the job.
“We’re open 365 days a year,” said NSA Naples Morale Welfare and Recreation (MWR) Business Activities Program Manager Ron Hodgen. “Whether everything on the base is open or closed, we’re here. We have people on duty looking to get food, we have service members and their families in the transit lodge to serve, and we want to be there for them. It isn’t just a business decision, it’s a service decision.”
Offering hand-crafted gourmet burgers, wings, rustic-crust pizza, sandwiches, salads, Starbucks coffee and Ghirardelli frappes, the bowling alley restaurant also offers a neighborhood charm provided by a charismatic staff of local Italian nationals always ready with a joke, a smile, and an irrepressibly positive attitude.
“It doesn’t make sense to come in to work depressed because of the pandemic,” said Spinz food service employee Gerardo Trochino, laughing through his blue protective surgical mask. “You might as well stay home. You need good positive emotion from other people.”
Hodgen said while the bowling operations have been temporarily suspended, the restaurant’s small town corner store quality is still what sets Spinz apart from other places on base. It’s also what keeps customers coming back.
“We’re here for the community,” said Hodgen, who oversees NSA Naples food and beverage, theater operations, golf, and gaming departments. “We exist for the community. We’re in Italy, but we want people to have a touch of home. Our whole concept here is familiarity.”
“Here everyone is a family,” said Spinz employee Vincenzo Zurlo, a Naples native. “How could it not be? We spend more time here than we do at home.”
According to Trochino, the positivity and friendliness at Spinz has become something of a renewable resource. “We keep a sense of humor,” said Trochino, a Naples native and 14 year veteran MWR employee. “My job is to make people happy. So when you smile, you provide good service, you try to be a good person, it makes you feel better, you know what I mean? Every day I try to do my best.”
Hodgen said the key to sustaining Spinz continuity of operations during the pandemic lies in its unique place in the command structure of NSA Naples.
“We’re operated as part of MWR,” said Hodgen. “So it’s not like we’re an independent contractor on the base. We’re a part of the command component, and when all of the vendors were being told that they had to close, we were in a slightly different position since we’re part of the command.”
Hodgen said the initial challenge of staying open during the pandemic was staying aware of the effects of the Italian decrees on Spinz 11 local national employees and the ability to keep day-to-day operations going in a safe manner.
“The most difficult parts of the pandemic have been managing the changes in the Italian decrees,” said Hodgen, “and ensuring that we’re protecting our staff and serving our customers while protecting everyone that’s coming into the building.”
Trochino said the military personnel at NSA Naples have been understanding and adhering to the preventative measures put in place to protect everyone. “The Sailors and military personnel respect the rules and they respect all of the people who work here.” said Trochino. “It’s a good relationship and it’s great to work for the American people.”
Trochino said his advice to future Spinz customers is simple. “Respect the rules, respect the lines, keep physical distance inside the facility and everything will be fine,” he said.
Zurlo said he sees brighter days ahead. “Everything is going to be better soon,” he said. “For us, for everyone.”
Hodgen said come what may, the Spinz staff will continue to pay attention to the little things in order to keep everyone safe in the restaurant.
“We want to be able to look people in the eye, see the smile and know that we’ve done a good job,” he said.