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Aquavit
Photograph: Roxana MarroquinAquavit

NYC indoor dining ban—here's what restaurants have to say

"Closing all indoor dining is a devastating blow."

By Christina Izzo
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As of Monday, December 14, indoor dining will once again by banned in New York City. Governor Cuomo announced the restaurant rollback in a press conference earlier today, a reaction to the rising spike in COVID-19 hospitalizations and positive case rates throughout New York State. 

The news comes not even three months after the governor reopened New York dining rooms at 25-percent capacity. In the weeks in between, restaurant and bar owners have grappled with ever-changing state and city mandates, with the whens and whats of whether indoor dining would close again and if, more importantly, federal aid for the depleted restaurant industry would ever come.

With dining rooms going dark next week, the city's eating establishments will again have to turn to takeout, delivery and outdoor dining as income revenue during the coldest months of the year. We asked local chefs, restaurateurs, bar owners and industry leaders to weigh in on the state's latest shutdown. See their responses and reactions below, and support them if you're able to!

Hakan Swahn, owner of Aquavit

"Closing all indoor dining is a devastating blow to thousands of restaurants and their employees. The effects will be much worse than last spring since there is no safety net now, as was the case with PPP. To shut down an entire industry without any compensation is incredibly unfair."

Jeffrey Bank, CEO of Alicart Restaurant Group (Carmine’s and Virgil’s Real Barbecue)

"OK, so now what? It’s been 10 months and everyone knew dining would probably close again. Everyone knew winter was coming. Everyone knows a vaccine is here but it will take until the end of spring for a majority to be vaccinated so why is there no plan to support my employees and my restaurant? Leaders need to lead by planning even for the unexpected. This was expected, so I answer your question with a question: so now what’s the plan?"

Liron Michaeli, partner of Temakase

"It's upsetting to hear that small businesses like us are being targeted and shut down as if we are the cause of the rising numbers. We have been going above and beyond to comply with New York's tough COVID restrictions, limiting our guest numbers by 75%, and at the end of the day, they choose to shut us down instead of coming up with a better solution to keep the virus rate low. It's just really upsetting."

Gina Buck, general manager of Concord Hill

“This is devastating for the industry and so frustrating. A lot of people will be out of work and many places will struggle. While the 25% indoor capacity was not going to save restaurants and bars, it was something and it helped. People don’t want to eat outside when it’s below 40 degrees, even with heatersand we already invested a lot in heaters and winterizing our outdoor space, but those revenues are dwindling now. It’s going to be a long, dark winter for the city. We had to furlough two employees again. With the curfew not allowing us to sell alcohol past 10pm, our options become even more limited. And there will be no New Year’s Eve, which is one of the biggest nights for restaurants and losing that is a huge blow to everyone in the industry."

Brooklyn Chop House
Photograph: Courtesy Brooklyn Chop House

Stratis Morfogen, the director of operations at Brooklyn Chop House 

"Governor Cuomo has destroyed our industry. I have to call my staff and break the news that they don’t have a job come Monday. I’m talking to busboys, dishwashers, waitstaff and more to tell them the devastating news that they can’t feed their families. We have our outdoor seating, which is limited, but so many of my colleagues are going under due to his stipulations and restrictions he’s implemented on the hospitality industry. They haven’t even ran a lemonade stand, and yet are still trying to tell these small business owners how to manage with no compensation. Where’s the check? What are they going to do to support these small businesses? They’ve issued warnings on indoor dining but not casinos, travel, and big-box retailers like Home Depot. Corporate pharmacies and big-box companies should only be for disinfectants, toiletries, groceries and prescriptions but they’re doing record numbers across the board. I have to reduce my staff by 70 percent. Our governor has literally left us out in the cold."

Jake Poznak, co-owner of Moonrise Izakaya

“We have not offered indoor dining since March 2020. This was a business, health and safety decision. Aside from not believing indoor dining is safe, NYC has implemented many guidelines that are expensive and logistical nightmares for a small, young business to pull off in order to comply with indoor dining laws. In the past two weeks, we have definitely seen a decline in business due to the cold, the holidays, and the rise in cases. Even with the decline of outdoor dining, we still did not feel comfortable opening indoors. Now that indoor options aren’t on the table, all [NYC restaurants] are on the same playing field and are hopefully going to get through the next 90 days of winter together, safely.”  

Mathias Van Leyden, owner of Loulou

"Although it is certainly affecting our business really badly, we respect the measured decision of the state. We are lucky to have a large outdoor section with close to 80 seats and all tables have overhead coverage with dedicated heaters. Public health is more important than anything else. This is hopefully the last few months before the vaccine is available for everyone and life can resume more normally. We’re ready to face any challenges and are optimistic about the future." 

Garry Kanfer, owner of Kissaki

"It’s sad to see everything that we have built for the past eight months shut down again. We are more prepared this time around with heated pergolas in place and takeout omakase to-go boxes available for delivery. This reality in NYC is pushing me to find expansion opportunities in Long Island and Connecticut in the new year." 

Maiella
Photograph: Scott G MorrisEmpty dining room at Maiella

Robert Briskin, owner of American Brass and Maiella

"There was no reason to shut indoor dining in NYC this summer, while the rest of NY was able to dine in. COVID-19 was largely gone during the summer, and that was the time to let businesses thrive. We were given indoor dining in the fall, when we all knew that there would be a second wave of COVID-19 coming, just like the Spanish flu 100 years ago. In anticipation of closing indoor dining, American Brass invested in 22 individual heated greenhouses that can hold up to six people. The idea was that if people were comfortable eating at home with their families, that they could just as safely eat in these greenhouses. We are taking all precautions to ensure a COVID-safe environment. The greenhouses are disinfected with an electrostatic spray gun between groups, and we have a contactless ordering system." 

Dean O’Neill, owner of Pekarna New York 

“Hearing about the ban for indoor dining was a huge disappointment as we just opened this Tuesday. Knowing that there is already a reduced ability to make a living, to then be told that there is a shutdown, is devastating. This is particularly true for us because we only have our backyard and can’t even apply for temporary outdoor dining structures yet to facilitate sidewalk dining. If we didn’t have our backyard, we would have nothing. We are not in a good position but like everything else, we will find a way and make it work. We do trust that those in the positions of power and influence know more than what we do and are making decisions that best suit the state.”

Stathis Antonakopoulos, owner of Carnegie Diner & Cafe

"Carnegie Diner & Café was getting ready to celebrate the one-year anniversary of our restaurant this December. Instead, as of Monday, we will be forced once again to pause our operations for the time being and wait for indoor dining to reopen. As the owner, I feel extremely bad primarily for our staff and loyal patrons that have supported us during this first year of our business. Closing indoor dining will make it impossible to survive financially during the winter, and our weekly losses will quadruple. Come Monday, we will pause our business and ask all our staff to go back to unemployment in the middle of the holidays. We are heartbroken by this decision, but this is the only way to survive in the long run. I understand the impact of COVID-19 in our lives, as my wife is presently hospitalized with the virus. NYC restaurants complied with the 25 percent indoor dining regulations back in September and maintained the necessary protocols. As an industry, we are not convinced that the COVID spike is from restaurants in NYC. I am Greek-American and very proud of my heritagean ancient Greek saying is “Everything in Moderation,” which is clearly something Governor Cuomo has no idea how to implement, and his micro-political decisions are reckless to the thousands of workers in the restaurant industry in NYC." 

Steve Millan, owner of Gray Hawk Grill

“I think it’s outrageous that the standards to remain open seem to change on a whim. There is no publicly shared documentation that shows restaurants are any more dangerous than other businesses. I am sad for all my employees, concerned for all owners including myself and my family, and the state of the industry in New York as a whole.” 

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