As thousands of New York City restaurants struggle to survive and stay open during the pandemic, the NYC Hospitality Alliance and restaurant owners from all five boroughs held a press conference Wednesday calling on Governor Cuomo and Mayor de Blasio to develop and implement an immediate plan for the return of indoor dining in New York City.
More than six weeks after indoor dining in New York City was indefinitely put on pause, but reopening plans for schools, museums, gyms, bowling alleys have since been announced, restaurant and bar owners are desperate for answers and action from the government.
New York City restaurants and bars anticipated that indoor dining could resume at 50% capacity under phase three of reopening on July 6, however restaurants elsewhere in the state have been serving customers indoors since June 17 and during this time New York’s coronavirus infection rate has dropped to .071, one of the lowest in the nation.
With feasibility and demand for outdoor dining during the cold winter months expected to be tenuous, insiders are predicting a death knell for the industry if indoor dining does not resume by mid-September.
According to an NYC Hospitality Alliance survey of nearly 500 restaurants and bar owners and operators across the city, 83 percent could not pay full commercial rent in July. Absent the return of indoor dining, New York City’s hospitality will continue to shed jobs. Local restaurants and bars employ 200,000 fewer people than they did in March, and nearly 60 percent of hospitality industry workers are jobless, according to the latest unemployment figures from the state.
“Despite the fact that the City exceeds and sustains the metrics that have allowed restaurants throughout the rest of the State to reopen, government leaders have still yet to provide any guidance on when small business owners, workers and customers can expect indoor dining to return,” says Andrew Rigie, executive director of the NYC Hospitality Alliance. “Our industry’s survival over the next several months depends on government immediately developing and implementing a plan that allows restaurants in New York City to safely reopen indoors like our counterparts everywhere else in the State.”
Rigie’s call to action was reinforced by restaurant owners from across the five boroughs, including Tren’ness Woods-Black, owner of Sylvia’s in Harlem; George Constantinou, owner of Bogota Latin Grille, Miti Miti and Medusa in Brooklyn; Alfonso Zhicay, owner of Casa de Chef in Queens; Massimo Felici, owner of Vinum in Staten Island; Alfredo Angueira, owner of Bricks & Hops, Bronx Drafthouse, and Beatstro in the Bronx; and Blair Papagni, owner of Anella in Brooklyn.
“Restaurants, and especially Black-owned restaurants, have been financially crushed by the pandemic,” adds Tren’ness Woods-Black, owner of Sylvia’s in Harlem. “If we truly want to save thousands of small businesses that sustain our neighborhoods and local economies, then we urgently need a plan for reopening indoors.”
“50 percent capacity is 50 percent capacity,” says George Constantinou, owner of Bogota Latin Bistro, Miti Miti and Medusa in Brooklyn. “Location shouldn’t make any difference on whether you can appropriately social-distance at 50-seat restaurant. If you can do it in Westchester, then we can most certainly do it safely in Brooklyn as well.”
“If there isn’t an immediate plan in place for welcoming customers back indoors, it’s anybody’s guess which industry businesses will survive the winter and which will close permanently,” adds Alfredo Angueira, owner of Bricks & Hops, Bronx Drafthouse, and Beatstro in the Bronx.
“So many of our restaurants are struggling to survive,” says Massimo Felici, owner of Vinum in Staten Island. “Running a business—especially one that relies on the revenue of one week to pay for the wages, food, and drinks of the next, or even the prior – without knowing when and how our businesses will be able to fully reopen is extremely challenging.”
“New York City has forever been recognized as the culinary capital of the world,” says Alfonso Zhicay, owner of Casa de Chef in Queens. “From every corner of the globe, individuals come to start their own businesses in New York City or visit to enjoy the culture and life that it offers. That’s what so many of our restaurants represent, and if the government can’t soon provide us a clear reopening plan, we risk losing it all.”
In addition to calling on government officials to develop and implement an immediate plan for indoor dining in New York City, industry leaders renewed the urgency for sweeping relief for restaurants across all five boroughs, inclusive of extending the moratorium on evictions, extending the suspension of personal liability guarantees in leases, pausing commercial rent taxes, providing rent relief, and extending small businesses cash grants.
The New York City Hospitality Alliance has been a leading voice for the industry since the beginning of the pandemic. The trade organization representing the over 25,000 restaurants and bars of New York City helped pave the way for the City Council to pass crucial legislation—including caps on fees charged by third-party delivery platforms and outdoor dining plans that extended lifelines to the city’s most vulnerable small businesses.