Back in September, Elena Calderon’s restaurant, Rincon Salvadorean in Jamaica, had been closed for six months when Gov. Cuomo said New York City restaurants could reopen their dining rooms at 25 percent capacity.
“But I don’t know if 25 percent is enough,” Calderon told the Chronicle.
Then on Dec. 14 Rincon Salvadorean and all other restaurants in the city closed their dining rooms again by executive order. Last week Cuomo said come Valentine’s Day, they can reopen again with 25 percent capacity.
Calderon had a different view Tuesday.
“Twenty-five percent is not cutting it,” Calderon, whose family has owned the restaurant for four decades, told the Chronicle Tuesday.
“Gov. Cuomo says 25 percent is better than nothing. But it’s not. If my certificate of occupancy says we can have 70 people, when you include my staff we can have 12 diners. That number is minimal. You have rent, utilities and insurance piling up. How can you pay? Twenty-five percent doesn’t make it.”
Gov. Cuomo said city restaurants will be able to reopen for indoor dining at 25 percent capacity beginning on Valentine’s Day, Sunday, Feb. 14.
“The surge reduction numbers are down [statewide],” Cuomo said. The statewide positive test rate was 7.9 percent on Jan. 4, following Christmas, New Year’s and other holiday activity, when both city and state officials had predicted an increase. He said Friday the number was down to 5.3 percent.
Indoor dining had been shut down back in March, and was reintroduced gradually throughout the state. New York City, with Cuomo and state officials citing its unique density challenges, was the last to reopen, on Sept. 30, at only 25 percent. It was shut down 74 days later.
In a letter to Cuomo dated Feb. 1, Councilman Bob Holden (D-Middle Village) urged the governor to go to 50 percent immediately.
“As the Governor of this state, you have strung these hardworking restaurants and eateries along for too long, giving false hope of reinstating indoor dining, all with the perception that your decision-making is based on facts,” Holden wrote in a letter obtained from his office.
“The facts are quite clear: Nassau County, just a stone’s throw away from Queens County, is currently at 50% capacity despite their positivity rate being at 6.5%, which is higher than New York City’s 5.8%.
“I ask that you reconsider your decision to open indoor dining at 25% by February 14th and instead allow restaurants to open at 50% today. While our business owners see packed restaurants in Long Island, they consider packing their boxes and closing their establishments for good. We should all be concerned that any further damage could be the final nail in our restaurant and hospitality industry coffin.
“You hold the faith of thousands of business owners in your hand. Please do right by them and decide based on the facts that you have right in front of you. Do not let your feud with Mayor de Blasio lead to irreparable and irreversible harm to our restaurants. We count on you to do the right thing.”
Calderon said she could open at 100 percent tomorrow if she got the all-clear from authorities.
“Our two biggest days of the year are Mother’s Day and Valentine’s Day,” she said.
Queens Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Tom Grech also said 25 percent is not enough. He is calling for 50 percent indoor capacity by March 1 and 100 by St. Patrick’s Day on March 17.
“Since the start of the pandemic, we have sadly lost over 1,000 Queens-based cherished neighborhood restaurants, and the vast majority of those that haven’t closed are hanging on by a thread,” Grech said in a press release. “These small businesses have done everything asked of them to keep their employees, customers and communities safe, but between freezing temperatures making outdoor dining nearly impossible and the restrictions placed on them by government, it’s getting harder and harder for them to survive.”
Andrew Rigie, executive director of the New York City Hospitality Alliance, is concerned about the two-week wait.
“[R]estaurants are broken hearted that they need to wait two weeks until Valentine’s Day to open at only 25 percent occupancy in the city, while permitting 50% percent occupancy in dining rooms around the rest of the state where infections and hospitalization rates from Covid-19 are higher,” Rigie said in an email. “Restaurants in the city are ready to safely open now. Unfortunately, once again the state’s standards are being applied inequitably in the five boroughs without a transparent and data-driven system for further reopening the city’s restaurant economy.”
He said the state’s actions “raise legal and moral concerns and extend unique economic challenges on the city’s battered restaurants and bars, which shed more than 140,000 jobs over the past year due to the pandemic and related restrictions.”
Cuomo last week reiterated his stance that the decision must find the safest balance between Covid numbers and economic concerns.
“Twenty-five percent is better than zero,” he said. “And when the numbers say we are getting better, those numbers will go up.
“I understand every business wants to do more. You can’t find a restaurant that doesn’t want to be open 100 percent; a theater that doesn’t want to be at 100 percent. That’s every business in the state; every business in the country. In every country in the world.”
Cuomo also said people need to feel things are safe before they return.
“I could say tomorrow that movie theaters could operate at 100 percent, but I don’t think people would come,” he said. “They need to feel that it’s safe.”