After more than two years of working from home, where distractions range from children to construction work, there's something to be said for having a quiet workspace. Sometimes it's just not possible at home and even at an office, you have to deal with chatty co-workers and limited private space.
At my apartment, my husband has his own meetings to attend to and my cats, as cute as they are, love to pull my attention by scratching the TV and climbing onto the stove. It can be both wonderful and frustrating working from home.
But on Friday, I headed to The Q Home Office—a sort of pop-up office space that is open to the public for just $20 a day (with access from 9am to 5pm). The Q is actually inside The Queensboro, a self-proclaimed "boisterous" neighborhood restaurant and bar in Jackson Heights. During its "off" hours, when the kitchen is preparing for the dinner rush, it operates as an office space.
When I arrived at 9:30am, I was greeted by manager Michael Fuquay, who ran over the ground rules with me, which included simple rules like keeping calls to a reasonable volume to maintain the quiet atmosphere. I was quickly introduced to a coffee corner, where the java and creamer flows unlimited for workers, and to a plethora of empty and socially-distanced tables where I could spread out and get my work done.
The only sound that joined the clacking of my keyboard and an occasional video meeting was the far-off clatter of pots and pans and occasional chatter from the kitchen staff, including executive chef Tony Liu, who makes a mean hot sauce (available for purchase). Another worker came in about an hour after me and I couldn't hear any of his business. The space was simply soothing to begin with, with plants growing in between tables and plenty of coffee just feet away.
The Q has been a help to community members in Jackson Heights, according to Fuquay, who operates the space with fellow manager Dudley Stewart and executive chef Liu—all who have lived in the neighborhood for over 15 years.
"We were hearing from a lot of neighbors who were working from home with a spouse and children all in the same small space," he tells us. "Our dining room was empty during the day, so we bought a few power cords, brewed some coffee and invited people to come have a spa day for their head space. The revenue generated by the office 'rentals' allowed us to upgrade an employee from part- to full-time at a time she really needed it to support her family."
There were other restaurants across the city that turned their dining rooms into working space, so we asked if this has become a trend among them.
"The pandemic has devastated independent restaurants," Fuquay says. "Big corporate chains have the resources to weather storms like this while most of us do not. Our biggest advantage is the connections we make with the people in our communities. We get the buy-in and emotional investment that corporations can never match. During the worst months of the pandemic, we got thousands of small donations from neighbors to support our community work. There are families that quite literally ordered take-out from us every day for months on end. I get teared up just thinking about it. The conditions of the pandemic were fairly unique, but our investment in community was a lifeboat that saw us through troubled waters."
While sitting at my table around lunchtime, munching on a succulent cheeseburger and its accompanying seasoned French fries, a small wedding party began and I was a surprise guest to the ceremony, which was an incredible moment to witness. The Queensboro staff was incredibly attentive and while the ceremony was joyous, it didn't interrupt my work. (The Queensboro only opens for lunch on Fridays at noon, otherwise, it doesn't open until 4pm Monday through Thursdays. Brunch starts at 11am on Saturdays and 10:30am on Sundays.)
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A look at its calendar shows just how much it has invested in community with board game meet-ups, live music sets, game day viewings, regular specials and more. On Mondays, local students come in for a storybook reading, too. Those who come in to use the Q for work get $5 off their lunch if they order.
"We all feel a connection here that goes much deeper than owning a business," Fuquay says. "We initially conceived of ourselves as a community-based restaurant, a social hub for the neighborhood. Well, what it means to be a community-based restaurant comes into laser focus when that community is in crisis."
The pandemic hit Jackson Heights earlier and harder than anywhere else in the nation, he says. It would have been easy to dwell on and worry about the restaurant closing, but the staff threw its energies into whatever it could do to help its neighbors, "first by preparing meals for healthcare workers at Elmhurst Hospital, then by allowing a local mutual aid group to use our empty dining room and walk-in refrigerators to stage food donations and later by hosting the Jackson Heights Community Fridge and providing thousands of meals to food-insecure neighbors," he adds.
"Along the way our neighbors rallied around our efforts, raising money to keep The Queensboro and its community work going," he says. "Our business has come out the other side of the crisis and we got to do a lot of good work to help others along the way."