• February 9, 2023

NYC Restaurants Balance Safety And Financial Pressure To Reopen : NPR

Michael Schall pours wine into Vini e Olli’s dining room, which was turned into a storage room during the pandemic. Camille Petersen hide the caption

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Camille Petersen

Michael Schall pours wine into Vini e Olli’s dining room, which was turned into a storage room during the pandemic.

Camille Petersen

The dining room of the Locanda Vini e Olii Italian restaurant in Brooklyn is located in a hundred-year-old pharmacy. It has dark wooden shelves, deep cabinets with glass doors, and a floor made of small, mother-of-pearl-colored tiles.

But for now, the dining room is a storage room – mostly for outdoor eating utensils.

“We store the empty propane heaters here. And in the front window, where it used to be a really romantic table, it is now only filled with plates and glassware,” says Michael Schall, one of the owners of Locanda Vini e Olii.

New York City restaurants are now allowed to increase their indoor dining capacity to 50 percent. That’s the highest capacity they’ve been able to work at since the pandemic began – as many restaurant owners like Schall are weighing security concerns against the financial pressures created by restrictions and lower revenue over the past year.

According to Schall, Locanda Vini e Olii will not dine indoors until all employees are fully vaccinated. Even then, he plans to focus on eating outdoors and, for safety reasons, restrict the indoor areas – for rainy or cold days.

Willie Filkowski has been a server here for almost five years. He says it feels good to slowly open up again.

“We have a lot of rest with the way things work and I think it has to do with the fact that we don’t open up from the inside. Wait, we found it out outside, you know, that’s great. Just leave it like that stay.”

According to Schall, he can hold back while dining indoors, as Locanda Vini e Olii is on the corner of a block with a wide sidewalk – in fact, more tables can fit outside than inside, and most tables are surrounded by three sturdy plastic walls . As a result, the restaurant has made a decent profit from dining outside even in winter.

“We had the luxury of being on the safe side, but there are many people who didn’t have that luxury. And in order to survive, they have to open their doors,” says Schall.

“Restaurants have been put in an impossible situation,” said Andrew Rigie, executive director of the New York City Hospitality Alliance. The last poll The alliance found that more than 90% of restaurants failed to pay full rent in December.

Chris Maestro owns a Brooklyn bar, Bierwax, and he says the financial cushion he developed over the summer and fall faded pretty quickly after the winter.

“We had days when we only made a hundred dollars and paid more wages to employees,” says Maestro.

Maestro is particularly concerned about the safety of eating indoors because of the new COVID-19 variants. But he doesn’t feel like he has a choice.

“It is difficult to try to get the dollar out of our current situation. I have a business to run and we will try to do the best we can with what we have been given.”

To make the most of his space, Maestro now basically operates three dining rooms – the limited indoor one, one in the bar’s back yard, and one on the sidewalk, where he has just built a more permanent outdoor dining structure.

Managing the logistics of all of these moving parts is a huge challenge. That’s why he’s investing in a reservation system to organize the seats as well as possible, especially when the weather gets warmer and more people go out.

On Manhattan’s Lower East Side, Jay Lue says not much has changed for her restaurant, Thailicious, since she reopened indoor dining.

Lue believes this is partly due to the fact that many people are not yet ready to dine indoors for safety reasons. The restaurant’s bigger problem, however, is that a large part of its customer base – office workers, tourists, and students – is still not in the neighborhood.

“It’s like being in a ghost town, as if there weren’t any people walking around here. So it’s very difficult for us.”

Like many restaurant owners, Lue is waiting for a day past capacity percentages when the city returns to its normal rhythm.

Until that happens, Lue opens all the indoor and outdoor tables that she can. And she tries to speak to every customer who comes in to let her know that her business matters.

Jack

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