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NYC Council Members Push the Mayor to Streamline Outdoor Dining Enforcement

Plus, FiDi staple Bennie’s Thai Cafe shuts down — and more intel

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The restaurants next to Times Square are reopened for outdoor dining after Covid-19 measurements in New York City, United States on July 8, 2020
An outdoor dining setup in Times Square
Photo by Tayfun Coskun/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images
Erika Adams is the editor of Eater Boston.

NYC council members tell the mayor to revise outdoor dining enforcement

Four NYC council members — including small business committee chair Mark Gjonaj and consumer affairs and business licensing chair Andrew Cohen — have sent a letter to Mayor Bill de Blasio calling for better oversight of the city’s outdoor dining program.

In the letter, the council members criticized the mayor for the conflicting rules and regulations that have come with the program, leaving restaurant owners scrambling to make last minute fixes to remain in compliance.

“We are writing because the lack of a cohesive outdoor dining enforcement process is causing restaurant owners unnecessary hardship,” the letter reads. “Owners are frustrated by conflicting requirements from city agencies, for example, FDNY has a different set of standards than DOB.”

Restaurateurs have spent thousands of dollars building and re-building outdoor dining setups as rules from different city agencies around barrier spacing and thickness seemingly change overnight.

The council members are pushing the mayor to create a clearer, “universal set of standards” that would be “accepted across the board” by all agencies involved with setting and enforcing outdoor dining regulations in NYC.

The mayor was asked about similar concerns at a press conference on Friday, and he encouraged any restaurateurs facing challenges to call 311, and said the city was committed to working with restaurants and bars — not fine them. “We don’t want to fine any small businesses,” he said at the press conference. “We don’t want any businesses that got into this, to not succeed.”

In other news

— Bennie’s Thai Cafe in the Financial District is permanently shutting down on July 26, exactly 24 years after the owners first started cooking in-demand Thai dishes from the back of a Blimpie sandwich chain location that they owned.

— Local wine expert Marquis Williams, who has developed wine lists at NYC restaurants like Scarr’s, has been ramping up his accessible, text-message-based wine subscription service, Highly Recommended, amid the pandemic.

— Popular food festival Harlem Eat Up has morphed this year into Harlem Serves Up, a televised fundraiser with food-focused programming featuring Harlem chefs and restaurateurs including Melba Wilson of Melba’s, Tren’ness Woods-Black from Sylvia’s, and Skai Young and Raymond Zamanta Mohan from LoLo’s Seafood Shack. The fundraiser airs on ABC7 on Saturday at 7pm, according to a spokesperson.

— West Village hotspot Rahi has relaunched its brunch service on Saturday and Sunday from 12 p.m. to 3 p.m., according to a restaurant spokesperson. The brunch menu includes a masala cheese omelette and coconut uttapam waffles, made with lentils and rice and served with either fried eggs or chicken.

— A new bar at the South Street Seaport has made open, outdoor space the focal point of its construction.

— A dispatch from a high-end NYC fish wholesaler who went direct-to-consumer during the pandemic: