Peak — the splashy, upscale American restaurant located on the 101st floor of a Hudson Yards building — stayed open and told managers not to disclose to diners that an employee of the adjacent Edge observatory tested positive for COVID-19 in mid-March, Eater has learned.
The highly anticipated Edge observatory, advertised as having the highest outdoor observation deck in the Western Hemisphere, opened to the public on Wednesday, March 11 and shut down just a day later amid internal news that a staffer had tested positive for the new coronavirus. The property’s restaurant, run by UK-based hospitality group Rhubarb, proceeded with its scheduled opening on Thursday.
On Friday, March 13, Rhubarb’s vice president of food and beverage David Edwards addressed Peak’s staff via email to inform them that Edge had shut down due to the latest guidance from the city banning large crowds.
In the same email, Edwards told staff that an Edge employee had been diagnosed with COVID-19. The employee was recovering at home, Edwards wrote, and had been self-quarantined since the onset of symptoms.
He noted that the Champagne bar, which is run by Peak and acts as a concession stand for Edge on the observatory floor, would also close. Peak, though, would remain open on Friday, “as scheduled.” The restaurant, like all other facilities in New York City, was under a new mandate to operate at half capacity in an early attempt to curb COVID-19 spread.
In a separate WhatsApp group message, Edwards directed Peak’s managers to make sure that all of the restaurant’s staff knew not to tell diners about the confirmed COVID-19 case within the observatory’s staff. He asked that staffers instead say only that the observatory couldn’t hold large crowds in the wake of the new city mandate.
“All staff know not to tell guests about the reported case?” Edwards’s message to Peak managers reads. “Simply that Edge is closed as we don’t want to congregate large crowds in the order of public safety... please confirm.”
Peak staffers who were feeling well continued to report for their shifts throughout the weekend. The restaurant ultimately closed on Monday, March 16, due to a subsequent mandate banning dine-in operations at restaurants and bars.
Rhubarb — which operates as RHC in the U.S. and also runs Hudson Yards restaurant Wild Ink — said in a statement that the company was “not aware” of Edwards’s message to managers. The executive is now “under investigation,” according to Rhubarb.
Edwards did not respond to multiple requests for comment for this story.
A spokesperson for Peak said that the Edge employee who was diagnosed with COVID-19 was asymptomatic during their last day of work at Edge, on Thursday, March 5, and the restaurant underwent a deep clean before opening for business on Friday, March 13.
“To the best of our knowledge, such employee had never entered the Peak restaurant,” the spokesperson tells Eater in an email.
But there was no mention of extra cleaning precautions in Edwards’s email to staff that went out on Friday, according to a copy obtained by Eater. The spokesperson said that all staff were notified of extra deep cleans “verbally” at the pre-meal meetings on Friday and Saturday.
Though Peak’s spokesperson said that staffers between the restaurant and Edge don’t interact, a former employee disagreed, saying that staffers can share back-of-house facilities and generally move freely about the upper level space. The employees are under different management groups — Rhubarb runs Peak, while real estate giant Related runs Edge — but the former employee argues that the day-to-day workflow is more integrated.
“While the Edge and Peak staff are technically separate economic entities, they are physically in constant contact with each other, and share many of the same facilities and therefore surfaces,” the source tells Eater. “There is nothing to indicate that the confirmed case could in any way have been contained.”
Edge’s parent company, Related, did not respond to requests for comment for this story.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the virus is known to spread mainly by close person-to-person contact. It is possible, however, that the virus can spread by a person touching a contaminated surface or object and then touching their face. A person may also be contagious before they start showing symptoms of COVID-19. In general, the CDC acknowledges that there are still many unknowns regarding how the virus spreads.
Peak is now temporarily shuttered. All hourly employees and most management staff at the restaurant have been laid off, as is the case with many restaurants across the city.
There have been other examples of poor communication among employers and employees as the coronavirus crisis escalated — fast-casual chain Dig laid off some of its employees via text message, Medium publication Marker reports — but the way that Peak’s management apparently tried to obfuscate the situation with diners was particularly shocking, the source says.