By Jorge Fuentelsaz
New York, Sep 28 (efe-epa).- New York restaurants will be able to reopen their inside dining spaces at 25 percent capacity on Wednesday, but restaurant owners are not satisfied with the move and gathered on Monday in front of state Gov. Andrew Cuomo to call on him to increase the occupancy limit to 50 percent.
With slogans such as “25 percent is not enough,” “25 percent doesn’t pay the rent,” “Don’t kill the city’s spirit” and “I want to speak to the manager,” hundreds of restauranteurs and workers from different eateries around the Big Apple demonstrated in downtown Manhattan to demand that the authorities take more measures to protect their sector.
The vice president of the group of Fox restaurant owners, Oneca Lazarus, explained with a microphone in hand that despite the fact that they are thankful for the chance to resume inside dining, as well as the recent extension of permission to serve diners outside all year round, these measures were insufficient.
Lazarus said that she would like 25 percent occupancy to be enough, but it’s not, adding that businessmen in the sector have to pay their workers’ salaries and the rent.
According to the spokeswoman for the restauranteurs, opening the outside dining area during the summer has allowed the businesses to take in about 25 percent of their regular revenues.
She said that with the coming of colder weather, open-air service will suffer and opening up the indoor areas as such reduced capacity is not going to fill the revenue gap.
In addition, the businessmen were asking state authorities to exert pressure on the national level to get a bill approved to create a $120 billion aid fund for small restaurant owners.
The president of the Fox group, Mark Fox, who also spoke on behalf of the restaurant owners at the protest, said that the reason the owners and workers turned out was to tell Cuomo that he hasn’t done enough.
He noted that while in the rest of New York state restaurants have been allowed to seat customers inside at 50 percent capacity since June, in New York City only now are local eateries able to reopen their doors at 25 percent capacity.
New York City during the spring was the world epicenter of the coronavirus pandemic leading authorities last March to close all non-essential businesses. It wasn’t until June that a phased reopening process was launched in the Big Apple, but it has been much slower there than in the rest of the state.
Fox acknowledged Cuomo’s efforts to limit the spread of the virus, although he said that the rest of the counties in the region had not registered any infection spikes despite the fact that the restaurants had been open at 50 percent occupancy.
He said that New York City restaurant owners are the businessmen who pay the most rent per square foot in the entire state and yet have the fewest customers that they can serve, adding that their moral obligation and priority as good citizens is to take care of the health of their families and their workers, but science has shown that restaurants in the rest of the state can safely open at half-capacity.
One of the protesters, West Bank cafe owner Steve Olson, who has operated his establishment for 42 years, told EFE that a “tsunami” was about to hit and everyone would be ruined, that is to say: a tsunami of closed restaurants in New York City.
He said that so far this year he had taken in only 8 percent of the revenues he garnered in 2019 despite the fact that he’s been offering take-out food and had opened up open-air dining for up to 16 people.
The situation is so precarious, he said, that of the 53 workers he had, now just eight are working at the West Bank and he had just recently asked them to accept a pay cut to the legal minimum of $15 per hour.
All his workers agreed to take the pay cut because they have been working for him for 20 years, adding that his open-air patio would be outfitted with heaters to counteract the colder temperatures this winter but even so – with no indoor dining – his waiters would still have to be going out into 10-degree (Fahrenheit) weather to serve their customers.
At the protest were also three Irish bagpipers and six people carrying a fake white coffin on which could be read the sentiment to “Rest in Peace” and indicating that New York gastronomy was buried inside, having “died in 2020 from complications of Cuomo and (New York Mayor Bill) de Blasio.”