Special Report

Shutdown: The Coronavirus

Food businesses struggles during pandemic

A barista, wears a face mask while preparing coffee during his shift at Caffe Reggio in the Village. Photo by Sydney Fishman.

At Caffe Reggio, a quaint cafe on the corner of MacDougal and West Fourth Street yesterday, a waitress cleaned tables while baristas wearing white face masks made espresso drinks. 

April Amparo, 29, is a waitress at the cafe, a Village staple since 1927. She said that the coronavirus pandemic has hurt the income of the employees. 

“Caffe Reggio would be about 70% more full right now,” she said. “That’s how much the sales are impacted. We normally have two servers, but we don’t need two now. That shows you how slow it is.” 

The New York City food service industry has been hit hard by the Coronavirus pandemic. “Social distancing”, a preventative method suggested by the World Health Organization, has New Yorkers staying at home and eating out less. Restaurants in Brooklyn have shut down because of the decrease in food industry sales, and some places are forced to limit their schedule to Friday, Saturday, and Sunday.

April Amparo, a server at Caffe Reggio, talks to customers about the Coronavirus. Photo by Sydney Fishman

Amparo said that as shifts are cancelled, she is worried about the hourly wages of people who don’t receive tips. 

“We are taking precaution because it can hurt peoples’ health,” Amparo said. “But we need the income. It’s affecting the cafe and I am sure it’s affecting the owner. I think what really worries me is people who don’t work off tips. They still need the hourly pay. I don’t have a family, but my coworkers have families.” 

Caffe Reggio has  stepped up cleaning  and  are giving sanitation wipes to customers. Amparo said they are being cautious. 

But she has other worries, in addition to her losing income, the coronavirus has also impacted her personal life. 

“I’m thinking like how am I gonna make money this week,” she said.  

Nearby Ben’s Pizzeria was desolate. 

 Raja Ali,  has worked for the pizza shop for 30 years. He stood by the pizza trays as he was scrolling on his phone.  

Raja Alli has worked at Ben’s Pizzeria for about 30 years. Photo by Sydney Fishman.

He is not sure if  the pizza shop can stay open over the next few weeks. 

“We are not making money,” he said. “On a weekend, we make above $1,000, but this weekend we made $450. We may have to close down next week.” 

He said they had to eliminate shifts at the pizzeria and they asked some of their employees not to come in. 

Ali is hoping they will qualify for the small business loan, which Mayor Bill de Blasio announced on March 8th in reaction to the loss of revenues because of COVID-19. Small businesses with fewer than 100 employees who have seen sales decrease of at least 25% are eligible to apply for the zero interest loan. 

“I hope this doesn’t go on for long,” he said despairingly. “I am not worried just about myself ,but about everybody.”

In Washington Square Park, NY Dosas, a food cart  has been a tradition for 18 years.  But they had to close down for a few days because of the virus. 

“More than 55% of our business is down because of the coronavirus,” said Thiru Kumar, the cart’s owner, as he checked on the samosas he was preparing. “We are open every other day now. We stay open when we can.”

But everything about running the business is hard with the pandemic looming over the city.

“We have four or five days of supplies,” Kumar said. “Everything is out, and the shops are empty.” 

But he is holding on to hope. 

“I think New York city will come through more than other places, he said. “They can’t shut down for long. New York comes through fast with everything. More than other places.” 

Thiru Kumar, the owner of Ny Dosas, at Washington Square Park during the summer. Photo by NY Dosas.

He said that while his business will hurt, he wants people to be conscious and stay home to prevent contaminating other people. 

“People just need to be conscious, wash your hands. Stay home. Respect other people,” he said. 

Mayor Bill de Blasio announced that the city will be signing an executive order prohibiting restaurants from serving people food except for take-out and delivery orders. The order will begin on Tuesday, at 9 a.m., and will be enforced for an indefinite amount of time. 

For now, small businesses are focusing on the sales that they can make during the pandemic. Kumar said that he still has a few customers visiting his food cart. 

“Neighbors come and support us,” he said. “A lot of people write to us on Facebook, they miss us. It will be about two or three weeks, and things will go back to normal.” 



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