In a phone call with some of New York City’s top independent restaurants, Mayor Bill de Blasio mentioned potentially reopening the city’s restaurants in three stages, culminating in a full reopening after Labor Day — a decision that could be made in conjunction with the potential reopening of the city’s public schools.
De Blasio didn’t provide specific dates or outline what each phase might entail, according to restaurateurs on the call, but Amanda Cohen of Dirt Candy and Roni Mazumdar, the owner of Adda and Rahi, say the inference was that restaurant capacity would start off limited and gradually make its way to a fuller opening in the fall.
More than a dozen of the city’s well-known independent restaurants and bars were on the call to voice concerns, including Olmsted, Golden Diner, Russ & Daughters, Katz’s, and Leyenda.
Still, all of this will be entirely contingent on health data and a sustained decline in the spread of COVID-19 cases in the city, as the mayor and Gov. Andrew Cuomo have been saying for weeks. Earlier this month, Cuomo noted that restaurants would open as part of a third phase of overall economic reopening.
Though restaurants in other areas of the country are reopening on a limited basis, many of the restaurateurs on the call expressed that they don’t want to rush into reopening dining rooms. Ivy Mix, an owner of cocktail bar Leyenda, says that all the restaurateurs said opening at reduced capacities wouldn’t be sustainable, and many preferred to wait longer if it meant they could open with more seats.
Others expressed fear over opening too early and facing another wave of confirmed COVID-19 cases — and then another shutdown. Golden Diner is open for delivery and takeout and in a “minority” of restaurants that’s been able to use the federal small business loan, owner Samuel Yoo says. Still, he wants to avoid a situation where the city reopens dining rooms and then needs to close them again, he says.
“That’s really going to screw us. To have to do this again before the year is over? Or ever again?” he says. “That’s a huge concern. That’s the last thing we want.”
The potential of adding restaurant seats to closed city streets — something the mayor has hinted previously and once again brought up on Friday’s call — could also be a part of the reopening strategy and could mean that restaurants might be able to open a little sooner, provided they can secure the additional seating. A City Council proposal to eliminate sidewalk licensing fees for the rest of the year, which typically cost restaurants thousands of dollars each year, could further bolster restaurants’ prospects if plans to open at reduced capacity move forward.
When pressed for details on the re-opening strategy and Friday’s call, the mayor’s deputy press secretary Jane Meyer issued a statement acknowledging that de Blasio talked to restaurateurs. She declined to offer specific details.
At a press conference on Monday, de Blasio said that the full-fledged return of the restaurant industry was going to be a herculean task. “To say the least, this is not going to be business as usual,” de Blasio said. “We are going to have to find ways to help small business that are different than anything we’ve ever done in the history of New York City.”
But overall, the mayor’s office seemed generally receptive to the concerns, and the tone of the call was positive and productive, says Max Katzenberg, the co-owner of Brooklyn’s Olmsted and Maison Yaki who co-founded restaurant relief group New York Hospitality Coalition with business partner and chef Greg Baxtrom.
The sentiment was echoed by other restaurateurs on the call, who were thankful to have an outlet for their concerns at all.
“It felt kind of nice to be heard after such a long time,” Cohen says. “Hopefully they will listen to what we had to say.”
With additional reporting by Serena Dai and Erika Adams