City restaurateurs reacted with shock and disbelief to Mayor de Blasio’s lack of urgency to reopen eating places indoors — an industry that employs over 300,000 people and is an indispensable part of the Big Apple’s social and business fabric.
More than 1,000 of the city’s 25,000 sit-down eateries have closed since the start of the pandemic — and a prolonged shutdown without a blueprint to reopen threatens to sink many more by winter’s end.
“When outdoor dining is done, when PPP loans and SBA loans are spent, it’s over,” said Aquavit owner Hakan Swahn. “Any restaurant will quickly run out of cash. Without indoor dining and any additional government financial assistance we will not be open very long.”
De Blasio set tongues wagging on Tuesday when he pooh-poohed the struggle restaurateurs face by describing their business as an “optional” activity for people with money that can wait.
The comments have chefs and owners calculating anew how long they can survive once the city’s program to expand outdoor dining ends on Oct. 31. Many say they won’t last through next year.
“Unless my [outdoor and delivery] business picks up, we can probably only stay open until the end of the year,” said Key Kim, owner of Japanese hand-roll favorite Maki Kosaka. “Restaurants cannot survive on delivery.”
He added that an indefinitely prolonged shutdown spells doom for high-end sushi restaurants — a pride of the city’s dining scene — because “to do omakase [a chef’s tasting menu], we have to order multiple fish from Japan and if it’s not guaranteed to have a certain number of orders, it becomes too costly.”
Three-Michelin-star Le Bernardin has no takeout, delivery or outdoor seating and chef/owner Eric Ripert said he’s ready to reopen his indoor dining room next month if it’s allowed. If he can’t open until March, “we can survive. But the majority of restaurants cannot,” he said.
The Oaxaca Taqueria chain’s dishes are all $13.95 and below. But owner David Schneider says that without indoor service, and without help from landlords and PPP extensions, “It will be tough to last more than a few months at our Manhattan locations.”
For Yann de Rochefort, founder of four locations of Spanish-theme Boqueria in Manhattan, survival depends on whether it will have to continue to pay its rents, which range from $16,000 to $50,000 a month.
“If we’re losing more money [with takeout and delivery] than our rent payments,” de Rochefort said, “It becomes a question of whether the landlord allows us not to have to pay rent.”
De Rochefort called de Blasio’s claim that indoor dining is too risky “capricious” given that restaurants in other parts of New York have served indoors for two months now.
Carmine’s and Virgil’s owner Jeffrey Bank fumed, “The mayor can’t have it both ways. You can’t have an identical-size restaurant with an identical HVAC system in Yonkers and Long Island open but not Manhattan. Either we follow the science or we don’t.”