Special Report

Shutdown: The Coronavirus

NYC Restaurant owners worry about maintaining business during winter 

Cadence Wright, 24, works at Banter Cafe on Sullivan street before indoor dining reopens in NYC. Photo courtesy pf Cadence Wright

Some NYC restaurant owners and staff are planning to march to Governor Andrew Cuomo’s office on Monday to protest what they believe are extremely limiting restrictions that will harm the restaurant industry.

“The problem with the 25 percent  capacity cap is that it simply isn’t enough even when combined with outdoor seating.” said Mark Fox, owner of Sapien Foods and president of Fox Lifestyle Hospitality group, one of the head organizers of the march. “Fiscally, the vitality of the city will be gone. Thousands of restaurant workers will be unemployed all over again with no possibility of re-employment.”

President of Fox Lifestyle Hospitality Group and owner of Sapien Foods, Mark Fox. Photo courtesy of Mark Fox

On Sept. 25, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced on the Brian Lehrer Show that outdoor dining in New York City will be made “permanent and year-round”, to ensure safe eating experiences during the pandemic. But those familiar with the restaurant industry who are participating in the march say that city and state officials are not aware of the repercussions the restrictions will have.

“Should the restaurant industry be only allowed to operate at 25 percent t capacity, the majority of businesses will be closed for good by December.” said Brian Morrissey, general manager and food director at Bobby Van’s steakhouse in Manhattan. “The ripple effect of these economically irresponsible and detached decisions reach much farther than the common eye can see. My hope is that someone starts doing their homework.”

Since the mayor’s outdoor dining decree began on June 22, restaurants have been able to serve patrons and continue to remain open by installing more outdoor seating areas on sidewalks and curb ways, so long as neighboring businesses allow.  This solution worked in many capacities because the warm weather allowed it, however with winter fast approaching, not everyone in the restaurant industry is convinced that they will be able to thrive. 

“I don’t really think people are going to want to come in and eat outside in December when it’s cold out.” said Cadence Wright, 24, a server at Banter café in Greenwich Village. “We are a small place and I just don’t think operating at 25 percent capacity is going to be survivable for us. If we close, I don’t know where I can find another job.” 

Restaurants will be able to enclose outdoor seating in tents, but if the tent is fully enclosed the business will be under the same restrictions for restaurants using indoor dining.

Many restaurant owners and employees want their workplaces to resume the pre-pandemic business model, but with the recent reports of COVID clusters in some NYC communities, not everyone is convinced jumping immediately to 50 percent capacity indoors is the safest option. 

“Indoor dining hasn’t even begun yet, but I’m already worried.” said Maddie Taylor, 22, a server at a Manhattan restaurant. “I mean, we are outdoors and people will try and come in to use the bathroom or order and just not be wearing a mask at all or will say they have forgotten theirs. Who forgets a mask in the seventh month of a pandemic?” 

Those planning on marching on Monday are demanding that financial support be provided to restaurants and cafes in NYC, as well as more realistic restrictions, but make it clear that they support safety and health precautions during the pandemic. 

“We fully supported the lockdown and would fully support additional measures in the future if necessary.” said Fox. “But if mom and pops don’t receive financial assistance within the next six weeks, then between 60 and 80 percent will close permanently. The repercussions from this would be devastating.”


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