STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. — At about 1 p.m. a meeting of restaurant owners and four local politicians wrapped up at La Fontana Restaurant in Oakwood. Proprietors are tired of waiting indefinitely to fully open up and they promise to be loud about giving customers the option of coming back to dining rooms sooner.
Rep. Max Rose, state Sen. Andrew J. Lanza, state Sen. Diane J. Savino, Assemblyman Michael Cusick and a representative from Assemblyman Charles Fall’s office attended the gathering along with about 40 restaurant owners representing Staten Island eateries and a few places in Brooklyn, reports Joe Fauci, owner and chef of La Fontana.
The proprietor vowed, “We’re going to raise some noise. We’re not going to sit around forever and waiting for phase three.” That’s the stage in which restaurants are designated to open at some point in the future. Phase one in New York City begins this Monday, June 8.
Rose told the Advance on Saturday, “The Mayor has lost the plot. Liquor stores and Target don’t have magic powers to stop COVID-19 that every other store lacks. Everyone wants to be safe and responsible. Let small businesses and restaurants open safely with guidelines.”
Rob DeLuca of DeLuca’s Italian restaurant is the unofficial leader of an ad hoc group formed about a week ago called I.R.O.A.R., the Independent Restaurant Owners Association Rescue. Last Saturday it penned a letter to lobby Albany to be part of the state’s phase one. It further demanded for immediate reopening at 50 percent indoor capacity. The delivery and curbside pickup model is unsustainable, owners say.
DeLuca said, “The guidelines we wrote last week are in the politicians’ hands. I believe Monday morning they’re going to demand a meeting with the governor. We’ll discuss the reopening, discuss customers’ and employees’ safety. They don’t know restaurants so someone’s got to speak with them who knows the industry.”
Assemblywoman Nicole Malliotakis added to the conversation. She did not attend this meeting but has been plugged into the situation and has met with restaurant owners earlier in the week.
She said, “There is a double standard in this city. Why can protestors gather in large groups without social distancing but a small business cannot open for limited customers? While we were successful in getting outdoor dining moved up to phase two, outdoor dining should be allowed now. The mayor and governor keep moving the goal posts and if they don’t allow these businesses to reopen soon, some of our favorite restaurants won’t survive.”
DeLuca said to stay tuned until Monday.
THE FOOD WORLD IN WHICH WE LIVE
Meanwhile Alex Dushkin of Staten Island’s own WhereYouEat.com observes restaurant life on Staten Island through his ordering system. He notes the dramatic changes over 82 days of the pickup and delivery-only model. Earlier in the week when the curfew went into effect, for instance, Alex says most Asian restaurants closed at 7 p.m. After two days of the curfew closing times went back to the normal 9 or 10 p.m.
He also reports that most of the Chinese eateries have reopened as of about a week ago with pickup only. It seems the opened ones have all resumed delivery service as of this week. Alex thinks this is because the proprietors and staffs that closed around March 16 have been “trying to get settled and back into the groove.”
Great Kills resident Mario Di Biase owns Sotto Voce in Brooklyn which is open for pickup and delivery. He said of these troubling times: “We always bounce back collectively. Unfortunately not all of us will make it through.”
The chef said he’s seen civil unrest in his lifetime. But the coronavirus is another thing.
“This will effect us for at least another year if not more,” he said. He predicts that many restaurants will close following the end of the PPP, about four weeks from now, and “the others will simply die on the vine as we grind through the slow months of winter.”
The pace at which things are going, several food service operators explain, is like a two-steps forward, two-steps back type of scenario.
Tom Beyar of Beyar’s Market sums it up from his perspective in the retail business, “After two and a half months struggling to make sure and try to keep up with the business challenges, trying to keep workers safe at work, stocking and getting product from multiple suppliers, vendors and meat purveyors, having workers and security at the door for proper social distancing, all of us at Beyar’s finally started feeling a sense of getting closer to normalcy.”
And then the protests and curfews started.
On a brighter note, Beyar sees prices going down on ground beef.
Our 12-year old was so excited this morning he awoke at 6 a.m: today is the first day of baseball practice in this new, pandemic world with his beloved travel team which plays in New Jersey. The coach is taking the kids six at a time and Andrew planned to use a red bandana for a mask. At this point the Snug Harbor Little League season is still on hold.
It’s been 11 weeks since Andrew’s last indoor practice. To try to understand what my kids are going through with not seeing friends for so long I think back to my own childhood where such an amount of time has passed “away” from ordinary life. It is comparable, on some levels perhaps, to a few summers spent at Camp Pinecliffe, a sleep-away camp for girls in Harrison, Maine.
My mom found the camp through two good customers who dined at my Uncle Jim’s restaurant, Jim McMullen’s, formerly in Manhattan. The camp owners, Hammie and Suzie, lunched one day while I hung around the restaurant and my mother, the bookkeeper there, worked downstairs in the office. On a summer’s day I’d play Barbie dolls most of the day in some corner of the restaurant and just do silly stuff like pretend to be a proper, paying patron or do little chores for the maître d.
One day Hammie said to my uncle, “Jim, she really should be at camp.” And about a week later that June I was writing letters to 10304 from the 04040 zip code. The point is that it was a solid six or seven weeks through August away from Staten Island. And when I came back the world looked very different, maybe a little more lush with greenery and certainly more noisy than those red clay paths back in the Pine Tree State.
But 11 weeks like this so far with no foreseeable relief? It’s rough and cruel on the kids — and our business owners — and it’s just the way it is.
Pamela Silvestri is Advance Food Editor. She can be reached at [email protected].