They are the lifeblood of New York City’s neighborhoods, so it came as welcome relief this week when diners were finally allowed back inside restaurants after months of being shut.
"It's not a reopening. It's like opening a new restaurant….”
That’s Gianfranco Sorrentino, owner of mid-town Manhattan’s Il Gattopardo, one of still relatively few establishments to open under the guideline of 25% percent capacity to ensure the health and safety of diners and employees.
“We had to rehire the staff, retrain the new staff. Everybody has to take their share, his own share of responsibility, because we are here to rebuild New York.”
But rebuilding what once was is not easy task – even for Michelin-starred Daniel, owned by renowned chef Daniel Boulud, who went so far as to accept donated products from Evian and Lavazza to help kickstart his once flourishing business.
“It has been awful. It has been the worst time in my life. Maybe if I didn't own my business, it would have been easier because I would have felt like it's a nice break. But there was not a single day with a single break, from the minute you get up in the morning to late night. We went from 750 employees around that time when we closed, to, seven, eight people."
Things are so dire, in fact, that the New York State Comptroller’s office on Thursday released a stunning report citing estimates from last month that one-third to one-half of the city’s struggling eateries could permanently shut over the next six months – potentially putting more than 150,000 people out of work.
Earlier in the week, restaurateur Mark Fox, founder of Fox Lifestyle Hospitality Group, marched with hundreds of protestors calling on Governor Cuomo to raise dining capacity to 50% to help save some of those jobs.
“These people are in dire financial straits, dire financial straits. I see the anxiety and pain on their faces every day."
New York diners are doing their best to keep their city afloat, like attorney Reid Rosen, among those willing to adhere to health protocols - such as wearing a mask when not - eating to secure an indoor seat at Il Gattopardo.
“I was looking forward to this for some time. We had planned it a while ago. It's fantastic to be with people, for once, to actually have an enjoyable meal with friends, and family, and acquaintances, and fellow workers.”
Back at Daniel, owner Daniel Boulud remained hopeful his restaurant – once one of the most popular in the world – would one day return back to quote-unquote normal.
When might that be?
"2025, we should feel better, I hope."