Amazon’s recent decision to open a massive campus in Long Island City has faced a lot of criticism, but restaurateurs in the area are feeling more optimistic — particularly about all the new mouths to feed. At least one restaurant owner is even already planning to hire more staff ahead of the company’s arrival.
The corporate tech giant has announced plans to hire over 25,000 employees for its NYC headquarters starting next year, a big influx for a neighborhood whose population now stands at around 80,000, according to the Long Island City Partnership. The real estate market is already feeling the effects of the decision, with apartments being sold sight unseen — leading to inflated rents.
But restaurateurs say Amazon will bridge with the biggest gap in the neighborhood’s dining population: daytime business. Most of people in LIC disappear during the day, and that’s one of the biggest setbacks the dining scene faces.
“In the morning, you just see a whole exodus of people leaving to Manhattan,” says Robert Briskin, a partner at Maiella, a waterfront Italian restaurant that opened in 2015. The neighborhood itself “doesn’t exist until 5 p.m.”
An optimistic Briskin has already begun thinking ahead, with plans to hire more staff and introduce lunch service at Maiella when Amazon arrives. When Amazon’s campus is up and running nearby, restaurateurs are also betting that LIC will be filled with thousands of employees during the day, and perhaps some will stick around at night, too, if they choose to live in the area.
Jackson’s Eatery and Bar owner Andrew Karistinos also expects the same daytime bump, as his seasonal American restaurant is about half a mile away from One Court Square, the tower that Amazon will temporarily occupy while its campus is built. He says he’ll be “lucky” to even get just 40 or 50 more people a day.
Plus, Adda owner Roni Mazumdar thinks all the action will invigorate the neighborhood, calling the block his new Indian restaurant sits on “dead.” “Unless you’re located right by the water, you don’t get that ‘walk-in’ crowd,” he says. “People stay inside their homes because there aren’t enough activities in their neighborhood.”
He thinks that even if rents go up, a new wave of retailers will follow the tech giant, which will be beneficial for the local business community, he says. The Amazon news, he adds, is the “cherry on top” of his move to Queens.
But they face potential setbacks. Like other tech companies on the West Coast, Amazon will most likely build its own cafeterias within its new campus, which would create the opposite effect. Its current Seattle campus has 12 different cafeterias, plus tons of restaurants and coffee shops on site, according to a spokesperson.
In San Francisco, restaurants flooded the neighborhood Twitter moved into — and were quickly burned. Five of seven restaurants that opened near the burgeoning tech scene closed within a few years, with lower-than-expected clientele from the ballooning worker count. Employees were simply not patronizing nearby restaurants in favor of corporate cafeterias.
Amazon says that each cafeteria is built to fit only a third of the people that work in the building it’s housed in, the point being to encourage people to spend their money elsewhere in the community. Still, restaurateur Ethan Stowell, who has a restaurant in the South Lake Union area where the Seattle campus lives, advises LIC restaurants to focus on breakfast and lunch. “You’re basically food service on a corporate campus,” he tells Grub Street.
Whether or not sales actually increase for local businesses, restaurateurs may also end up facing other issues with Amazon, like with increased rents. The owners of Gordo’s Cantina — whose lease runs out in two years — have been actively looking for a space to expand their 25-seat Mexican restaurant, but landlords have already begun charging triple what they’re paying now, says co-owner Paulina Grigonis. In fact, she says, if they don’t pin down a spot over the next 24 months, they’ll be forced out of the neighborhood.
“If before we weren’t able to find or raise the money to move to a larger space in LIC,” she says, “then now it’s probably going to be harder because things are going to be more expensive.”