Restaurateur Stratis Morfogen, the owner behind Brooklyn Dumpling Shop, a growing chain of dumpling automats, refuses to back down from his belief that the government is overstepping its authority over vaccine requirements. Recently, he drew even more attention to his controversial views last week when Brooklyn Dumpling Shop posted — and then deleted — an incendiary Instagram post calling for New York’s governor to arrest Morfogen over his opposition to the city’s vaccine mandate for workers.
As Morfogen steps into the national spotlight for his brazenness, what actually takes place at his restaurants is more complex. He does not require that his employees be vaccinated, but almost all are except for a few due to specific medical reasons, he says. For those employees, Morfogen says he requires tests before each shift so they have the choice to remain unvaccinated. It’s a common scenario — how business owners decide to navigate the divide over the government’s role in requiring vaccination policies — that’s playing out in NYC and others parts of the country.
On January 14, Morfogen dropped into controversial Fox News host Tucker Carlson’s prime-time show to declare — as he has many times — that he does not agree with NYC’s vaccine mandate, which requires both public and private sector employees to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 in order to work. “I’m not doing the vaccine mandate,” Morfogen said on the show. “And I told Governor Hochul to come and arrest me.” (Morfogen’s restaurants are in compliance with the mandate because his staff is voluntarily vaccinated or under medical exemption, the restaurateur tells Eater, but he clarifies that he is against forcing vaccinations as a qualification for employment.)
After the show aired, a clip of the video was reposted to Brooklyn Dumpling Shop’s Instagram account alongside a caption that read, in part:
“Our staff is fully vax’d. They did it on their own !!! BIG DIFFERENCE. NOTHING TO DO WITH POLITICS. IT’S ABOUT OUR BELOVED BUSINESS’S ....
@govkathyhochul PLEASE ARREST ME SO I CAN DRAG YOUR ASS TO THE SUPREME COURT #arrestme
Morfogen has argued repeatedly on social media and in other media outlets, including the New York Post, that restaurants should not be mandating vaccination status for employees, but rather mandating regular testing instead.
The Instagram post has since been deleted from Brooklyn Dumpling Shop’s account and replaced with another anti-vaccine-mandate message that calls restaurant workers heroes and specifies that the restaurant is “PRO VACCINE” but “not pro telling others what to do to their bodies!”
However, Morfogen says he still stands behind the content of the post, and only maintains that it was a mistake for the commentary to be published on Brooklyn Dumpling Shop’s account. Morfogen tells Eater that the post was deleted from the account last week after a staffer at the company accidentally posted Morfogen’s personal message to the restaurant’s feed. “It was a mistake, nothing more,” Morfogen tells Eater. “I want that on my personal [account]. That is my personal belief.” The same post calling for the governor to arrest Morfogen — even though he doesn’t appear to be violating the mandate — remains up on his own account.
Morfogen’s restaurants are abiding by the mandate and checking customers for vaccination status, he says. But if he had his way, the restaurateur would instead ask customers to show negative COVID-19 test results within a 48-hour time period in order to dine indoors, which he believes is a more effective measure of health safety rather than displaying a vaccination card.
“I’m tired of it, and I think I’ve reached my boiling point,” Morfogen says of all the various government mandates.
Morfogen is a longtime NYC restaurateur who has backed a slew of restaurants in the city, including upscale celebrity hangout Philippe Chow, and, more recently, pan-Asian steakhouse Brooklyn Chop House. His latest venture, a line of automats dubbed Brooklyn Dumpling Shop, garnered plenty of attention in middle of the pandemic when the first location opened in the East Village, dispensing plastic baggies filled with head-scratching dumpling flavors like peanut butter and jelly and bacon cheeseburger. Morforgen also argued against the government-regulated indoor dining ban that was temporarily rolled back into place last winter.
NYC’s current vaccination mandate for workers has been in place since December 27. Employees who do in-person work or interact with the public must have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine by that date in order to stay employed; and must receive a second dose within 45 days. The mandate was put in place to better protect workers against the virus especially in light of the omicron variant surge in the city, former mayor Bill de Blasio said at the time.