Carmine's, the iconic Italian restaurant in the heart of New York City's Times Square is back open for business. The bustling neighborhood mainstay timed its re-opening for the day Broadway theaters drew back their curtains for the first time in more than 18 months as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.
And hungry diners packed the house — the restaurant's 480 seats were completely booked. "There's been a little bit of a backlog of people who want to come out and celebrate at Carmine's... Reservations have been fantastic," Jeffrey Bank, CEO of Alicart Restaurant Group, the parent company of Carmine's, Virgil's Real Barbecue and Artie's in NYC, told Yahoo Finance Live.
While walk-ins are also welcome, Bank encourages diners to make a reservation at carminesnyc.com. But don't forget your vaccine card. Dubbed the "Key to NYC," the ordinance requires all people 12 and older to show proof of at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.
Banks said restaurants in the Group are "probably some of the safest places in the country to eat right now," with all employees required to be vaccinated as well.
'Government needs to step up'
Though Bank and everyone in the restaurant industry welcomes the return of traffic to the Theater District, a potentially long recovery looms.
This week the House Committee on Small Businesses met to discuss budget reconciliation, and while it approved legislation to deliver $25 billion in funding for small business, the committee did not vote on a bill for a $60 billion refill into the Restaurant Revitalization Fund.
Banks said such relief is "needed," and employees want to come back to work. "The government needs to step up and replenish the restaurant recovery fund. They put out a fund — 300,000 restaurants applied for relief, only 100,000 got funded [and] 200,000 restaurants are waiting for their relief from Congress," he said. "Independent restaurants don't stand a chance without government's help."
Erika Polmar, executive director of the Independent Restaurant Coalition, told Yahoo Finance the situation is "a bit like having Groundhog Day," with events recurring the way they happened before, all over again.
"We feel like we're going back to where we were in March 2020. With the rise of the Delta variant, we have seen more dining restrictions, and also a tremendous amount of consumer hesitancy ... Restaurants are also facing mountains and mountains of debt from 18 months of operating at limited capacity, sometimes being completely closed."
Bank described it this way: "It's like going through open heart surgery, and it's a good surgery, and then the next day, everyone thinking you're fine, you're not, it's a slow recovery."
Brooke DiPalma is a producer and reporter for Yahoo Finance. Follow her on Twitter at @BrookeDiPalma or email her at email@example.com.