Big Apple restaurateurs are attempting to take in stride Gov. Cuomo’s 10 p.m. indoor-dining curfew — but they’re scared to death of a possible indoor shutdown, which they fear is likely as
Big Apple restaurateurs are attempting to take in stride Gov. Cuomo’s 10 p.m. indoor-dining curfew — but they’re scared to death of a possible indoor shutdown, which they fear is likely as Covid-19 rates inch up.
Stephen Starr, perhaps the city’s largest middle-market operator with more than 1,000 seats at Buddakan, Pastis, Upland, Clocktower and La Vez among others, said flatly when asked if they could survive another open-ended indoor shutdown:
“For a month without paying rent and with more PPP help. Otherwise, no.”
Owners who prayed that Cuomo would allow indoor capacity to rise from 25 percent to 50 percent, as he hinted he’d do six weeks ago, were staggered by the realization that it could become zero percent — just in time for Thanksgiving.
Nahid Ahmen, chef-owner of tiny “progressive American” cafe Luthun in the East Village, which has only 12 indoor and 8 outdoor seats, said, “We are not going to survive another shutdown because we are not even close to surviving from the last shutdown.”
And Aquavit owner Hakan Swahn warned that if indoor dining is banned, his modern-Scandinavian restaurant “will also shut down immediately and reopen when things open up again depending on how long it takes. There’s no point trying to make ends meet with [only] outdoors going into the cold season.”
The bleak forecasts came as the New York Hospitality Alliance reported that even with outdoor and limited-capacity indoor service, 88 percent of the city’s restaurants didn’t pay their full October rent and 59 percent of landlords refused to waive rent.
At stake are more than 300,000 jobs as well as one of the city’s signature industries. Thousands of eating establishments have already closed although precise numbers are unclear.
Alliance president Andrew Rigie warned, “If indoor dining is shut down and government doesn’t provide significant financial relief, then thousands more restaurants will permanently shutter.”
Owners hooted at the idea that they could get by only on outdoor service, even with fancier, heated alfresco structures going up. Shelly Fireman’s giant RedEye Grill has a long, white tent with crystal chandeliers on the patio at Seventh Avenue and West 56th Street.
“But when it gets snowy and cold, nobody will sit inside or outside,” Fireman said. “Our plaza doesn’t have enough electricity to plug in enough outlets” to heat enough tables.
Making matters worse, some health experts claim that even outdoor dining could be risky as facilities become more enclosed.
Even if restaurants can muddle through an indoor shutdown, they might emerge permanently damaged. Most top-end places rely on longtime staff members to keep things shipshape, but prolonged shutdowns can chase them away and dilute talent both in the kitchen and in the front of the house.
Le Bernardin chef/owner Eric Ripert said, “We could survive another lockdown but it would leave almost our entire team without jobs again.”
The 10 p.m. curfew is less dire, owners suggested. It isn’t much earlier than previous cutoffs of 11 p.m. outdoors and at midnight indoors. The manager of an Italian place on the Upper East Side, one of the liveliest neighborhoods for street and sidewalk dining, said, “Look inside — everybody’s usually gone by 9:30.”
Some places aim to make up for the 10 p.m. curfew with earlier hours. Le Bernardin, which has been booking sit-down times from 5:30-9 p.m., will start taking customers at 5 p.m., Ripert said. A meal may last for only two hours.
Daniel Boulud said that at his Restaurant Daniel and Bar Boulud, “I think we’re going to have to stay creative. We’ll open an hour earlier. If we have people dining a little later, then we’ll give them food and wine to take home. You’ll be on the clock,” he said with a hopeful laugh.