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NYC

Feature

JoJo
September 23, 2020
NYC Restaurants React To The Return Of Indoor Dining
A regularly-updated collection of the NYC restaurant community’s hopes, questions, fears, and frustrations.

After months of doing what they could with just takeout, delivery, and outdoor service, NYC’s restaurants now prepare for the next step in reopening: indoor dining. Beginning September 30th, restaurants will be able to open for indoor dining at a reduced 25% capacity.

Indoor dining comes with a lot of uncertainties. That’s why The Infatuation & Zagat Stories have teamed up to bring the perspectives of industry workers to the forefront as they process their hopes, fears, optimism, and frustrations in this next restaurant phase.

We’ll continue to update this post with more voices as they come in. If you work in the restaurant industry in any capacity, and you would like to submit your own thoughts on indoor dining, send them to chris.mohney@zagat.com and hannah@theinfatuation.com and we’ll review them for posting here.

If want to support your favorite restaurants beyond dining with them, amplify the work of the Independent Restaurant Coalition and demand federal funding for non-chain restaurants. Check out their site here to send a letter to your representatives and find out more about spreading their message. And, if you do nothing else, please, for the love of democracy, register and make a plan to vote.


Sibte Hassan, Owner of BK Jani in Williamsburg

“I was hospitalized in April for Covid so I can say that it’s great to be back and that everything is coming back to life. People have been really polite and generous. We survived on pick-ups and deliveries - people were literally paying ten dollars for tips for delivery.

The opening up is great. We have enough space that we can actually separate them six feet apart and we’ll be fine. My capacity is 40, so I can have 10 people in there. If more people come in, we’ll start putting tables on a timer.

A lot of restaurants are going out of business, but this slow process of bringing people back and those loans that some people are getting from the government, I think it’s just going to help survive a little longer. We are resilient and stubborn. We’re going to be back in the game. It’s just going to be a while.” 9/11/20

NYC

Review:

BK Jani

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JJ Johnson, Chef & Founder of Fieldtrip in Harlem

“If indoor dining didn’t come back 70 percent of businesses would be closed. Which would mean no jobs and vacant buildings.

People will eat inside. More people will be going back to work and everyone will feel a renewed sense of comfort - with caution. NY is more ready than anywhere. People are listening to the officials, wearing masks and being careful. I think the pandemic has made people respect their restaurants more than ever before because you’ve been home for so long. The hope is that New York restaurants and New Yorkers will bring the restaurant industry back stronger than ever.” 9/12/20

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Elisa Marshall, Owner of Maman Bakery

“We do think that it’s time for safe indoor dining to re-open, as gyms, salons and other similar businesses have been able to reopen, so why not restaurants. I think we need to get used to the new normal and the new rules and changes involved with safely dining out.

The world is changing, little by little, table by table, and hour by hour and I truly believe that restaurants, and (safely) gathering around the table can help to spark joy in those who have lost it and bring back a sense of community to NYC.” 9/11/20

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Alfred Portale, Chef & Owner of Portale Restaurant in Flatiron

“The governor’s decision to allow restaurants to begin indoor dining at the end of the month has given the industry an infusion of hope that we so desperately needed. We have worked tirelessly to adapt to this new reality and rest assured, our mission will always be to provide a safe and pleasurable experience for guests and staff. New York City is strong, and after months of uncertainty, this show of support will finally allow us to show the world exactly how strong we are.” 9/11/20

Ron Silver, Chef & Owner of Bubby’s in Tribeca

“Every little bit of business during these times counts. The hospitality industry is in a dire situation and opening indoors at 25% capacity is a small step forward. We understand the importance of prioritizing our staff and customer’s health and safety, which also limits the capacity which we can reopen. But I hope the city and landlords will give their full support to the restaurant industry in other ways, and think we have to find additional solutions that will allow us to rebuild. With the vast majority of restaurants seriously struggling to survive and pay rent, we need the Mayor, Governor, City Council and landlords to really work with us and provide us with necessary financial safeguards and consideration to fully recover. In the meantime, we’re going to open indoors but outdoor dining will also remain a high priority for us. We are willing to do whatever it takes to make our customers feel comfortable and wanting to come back, even when it’s colder weather.

We’re all just getting started. New York City can see a whole new level of engagement and outdoor life once we can open inside. The additional dining space will also add to the city’s shortfalls by generating sales tax revenue. Our industry was arguably one of the hardest hit, and we hope the city does not attempt to recoup lost revenue by coming after struggling restaurants. We all make good food for the communities we love, and want to keep doing it. If the city does not try to take advantage of the restaurants as they’ve done in other post-disaster situations, and gives us the leeway to create good food and atmosphere, New York will come back better than ever.” 9/23/20

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Stacey Lee, Founding Partner of Harlem Hops in Harlem

“Reopening indoor dining is another way to obtain more income. We believe it’s important for processes to be in a place to keep guests and workers safe and healthy. That’s what’s most important while opening our doors. We are cheering for our fellow bar owners and restaurant owners to weather this storm the best way they can. With indoor dining open, it allows us all to survive another day of Covid and keep our family of staff working.” 9/9/2020

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Review:

Harlem Hops

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Paul Giannone, Owner of Paulie Gee’s and Paulie Gee’s Slice Shop in Greenpoint

“The 25% is not going to buy us very much at all. We’re going to be able to add 18 seats. But at least I know that, for now, I can have some business when the weather’s bad.

I don’t think there’s going to be a spike. I do worry about the ventilation. There’s a pilates studio two doors down. They put in these little boxes, they were $160 each. The health department came in and said they were fine. But I’m afraid to spend the money because each box covers about five hundred square feet per box, so I have to get a bunch of them. And then to find out that the particular health inspector that comes in on a certain day says they’re not good...

I’m in a particular part of the city where almost all of the people that live in our neighborhood - in Greenpoint - are from somewhere else. And the fact that they are from somewhere else and they’re young means many of them went back home. When they were here, not only did they come out and eat in our restaurant, but their friends and family came to visit them and came and ate, too. If they don’t come back, that’s a problem.” 9/10/20

NYC

Review:

Paulie Gee’s Slice Shop

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Juan Correa, Co-Owner of Llama Inn and Llama San in Williamsburg and the West Village

“My ultimate take is that if restaurant and bar owners and their employees will bear the economic burden of keeping the virus at bay and our society safe, then we should be compensated for that. What does that mean practically? Forgiveness of rent payments, forgiveness of utility bills, and a living salary for our employees. Governor Cuomo should stop protecting the large financial institutions, insurance companies, and the state-regulated utilities at the expense of the small folk.” 9/9/2020

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Maiko Kyogoku, Owner of Bessou in Noho

“While I’m glad we are slowly moving forward, 25% for us means about 15 more guests at any given time – that’s not enough to keep us going in the long run. We are also worried about the number of cities seeing spikes in Covid cases after opening for indoor dining and are wary of facing the same fate.

Adding to this restriction is the fact that we are one of many unfortunate businesses that occupy a street that is prohibited from offering outdoor dining every day. Bessou has been participating in NYC’s Open Streets program which allows us to operate for three days a week. It’s been a cumbersome system that the city needs to rethink if we are going to continue outdoor dining next year.” 9/10/2020

Nate Kuester, Chef and Co-Owner of BapBap in Flushing

“I’m excited to see friends, colleagues, and all restaurants catch a break. It’s incredible how we’ve adapted so far, although, it is not enough and we need help. The way that I see it is that we’ve accepted two paths: that of opening indoor dining and the alternative, which over the winter would put thousands of businesses, livelihoods, and hundreds of thousands of jobs in jeopardy.

That being said, safety should be the primary concern. Our arrogance and selfishness is a huge factor in preventing us from operating as safely as other countries like Denmark, Taiwan, or Korea. Knowing that there are thousands of new cases daily is still frightening, and to think that one meal could be responsible for a stranger’s death is enough for me to reconsider. The right decision is clear to me, but it’s on our local and federal governments. Is protection and rent forgiveness for small business owners and continued benefits for employees just something we’ve given up on?” 9/10/2020

Hallie Meyer, Owner of Caffe Panna in Gramercy

“My hope is that there’s some incremental help that this brings to business owners’ bottom lines, but also I’m concerned for what it might mean for staff safety. I don’t currently have a policy about serving people when they’re disrespectful or about what we will do when people don’t wear a mask inside. I’m definitely going to be investing in street heaters. Guests are probably more willing to enjoy their ice cream in a temporary setting on the sidewalk than they would be for a sit-down meal. So they’re going to be fine wearing their coats, licking an ice cream cone - they’re not going to be super frustrated. That said, I would love to invite people back inside eventually.” 9/9/2020

Gabriel Kreuther Chef/Owner of Restaurant Gabriel Kreuther in Midtown

“What a relief and a step in the right direction for the industry. We are super excited to welcome back our New York friends and family— they’ve been hoping for so long to go back to the places that make up the lifeblood of this city. After a near total devastation of this industry, we are finally starting to see the end of the tunnel with this amazing announcement. We are all looking forward to welcoming back our dear New York friends and to serve them once again. Thank you for giving us the oxygen that we so needed. We will be ready to welcome you and feed you, New York.” 9/9/20

Angie Mar, Owner & Executive Chef of The Beatrice Inn

“I think that 25% does nothing for restaurants so there has to be some legislation passed for additional funding to help us through this time. I’m especially disappointed in the mayor who has done nothing for our industry.“ 9/11/20

NYC

Review:

The Beatrice Inn

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Felipe Donnelly, Chef/Owner of Colonia Verde in Fort Greene

“I could not be happier that the political game that Di Blasio and Cuomo have been playing is starting to come to an end. Indoor dining will not be the straw that breaks the camel’s back with regards to Covid. Not if the restaurants are responsible and not if the diners are as well. We are smarter and better than what we get credit for.

I also think that Cuomo’s idea of creating a police force to enforce indoor dining is the complete opposite of what is needed right now. Happy to see 25% is a thing and I hope that expands very soon once we prove that we can do it right.” 9/9/20

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Yann de Rochefort, Founder of Boqueria

“Governor Cuomo’s announcement that we would be allowed to reopen with 25% capacity as of 9/30 is too little, too late for NY restaurants and their (former) 300,000 employees. No measures have been taken to provide rent relief while severely constraining thousands of businesses’ ability to generate revenue and pay their bills. This measure ignores the overwhelming evidence from numerous states including nearby CT and MA, that restaurants can be reopened for indoor dining without triggering a spike in cases of positivity provided that the social distancing measures already in place are followed.

While allowing indoor dining is a necessary step, it is time for real measures to allow restaurants to survive including broader indoor dining and rent relief. What other businesses could survive being deprived of income but held to satisfy landlords?” 9/10/20

Key Kim, Owner of Maki Kosaka in Flatiron

“This is great news and exactly what we have been waiting for. There will still be people who are worried about eating out but the good thing is that they will have the option to dine indoors or outdoors. We’re happy about the decision and are going to re-evaluate because offering fine dining will be very difficult. At 25%, that is still a reduced staff that is allowed so we still can’t bring everyone back. The first month will still be hard because our sales will take time to pick up. All of the diners who have been coming out are more comfortable doing so and want to support restaurants. I think those people are looking forward to indoor dining and will continue to support restaurants. I think this is very positive and people will be receptive to it.” 9/9/2020

NYC

Review:

Maki Kosaka

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Rohan Mehra, Co-founder of the Prusik Group & Operator of The Market Line on the LES

“The decision to allow indoor dining was certainly a welcome announcement for an industry that has been reeling to the point of catastrophe for the past several months. But this is still only a small step, as was the relaxation of outdoor dining regulations. Even with both outdoor dining and limited indoor dining, the most fortunate restaurant operators will see a small fraction of the revenue they need to sustain operations. It is incumbent on operators and guests alike to adhere to all guidelines so that this first step does not result in additional COVID spikes. If we can all band together as we did when we flattened the curve in NYC months ago, this will hopefully lead to further relaxation of restrictions.

But regardless of what happens, it is clear that the restaurant industry needs a specific and significant relief package to survive. Millions of jobs depend on it. Thousands of businesses depend on it. And the soul of our city depends on it.” 9/9/2020

Nate Adler, Owner of Gertie in Williamsburg

“It is going to take much more than a safe return to indoor dining at 25 or even 50% to get us back on our feet. My PPP funds are two weeks away from exhaustion, no government relief on the way and major questions remain that no one really knows the answer to: Will New Yorkers feel comfortable dining inside? Will we see a second surge, and then the ultimate demise of the industry as we know it? How many New Yorkers have left town for good, (especially in my neighborhood Williamsburg) and therefore how many fewer diners are there?

For me, nothing will really change with this announcement - we will not be “pivoting back” until we know more from a health and safety standpoint. What I do know is that we will still struggle every day, with no real end in sight, and will continue to rely on grant funding and our non-profit operations to survive.” 9/10/2020

NYC

Review:

Gertie

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