Opening Monday, Outdoor Seating, Landy and the Future…

Originally Published : June 19, 2020


He likes us. Right now, De Mayor really likes us!!! After seven years of turning his back on the hospitality industry, the Flying Mayor finally snapped to it, unbuckled and recognized just how important we are to NYC.  Watching his presser today it was like he finally connected the dots and realized that restaurants were also businesses.  I still don’t think he gets it and I still can’t move past pizzagate and the fact that he’s a Red Sox fan.  Both entirely inexcusable.

Anyway, give it up for General Rigie, who led the charge and kicked everyone’s ass at City Hall to get Open Restaurants (bureaucrats and naming things, lethal) done and we got it done fast and right and Andrew deserves our heartfelt thanks.  Buy that man a drink when you see him.  Also, The Hospitality Coalition and ROAR were right up in there in the action and thank you all too.  I love the scrappiness and fortitude of hospitality people.  No one can outwork us.

While opening the streets is a big part of the puzzle and is very helpful today and was so fun on Sunday when Lauren and I were downing frozen painkillers from Ramona and walking around the west end of of Greenpoint Ave that is becoming more New Orleansy each day, we are always looking forward to the next industry need and the road ahead looks awfully bumpy.  Rife with false starts, second waves, staff infections and a jittery, germaphobe clientele. Oh yeah, most operators will also need some cash money if they are really going to make a go of it.  Let’s start gearing up to fight for the right to add a surcharge to checks and also turn our attention back to the federal government to intensify the lobbying effort to get some more money to owners.

In some parts of the country, the future is already here. California, Texas, Florida and other states with pandemic blinders on are a step ahead of us as their Governors ignore the health data  and press on in exchange for a sweet tweet from DT.  Anyway, we can see what’s coming our way.  Today, we will be taking a look into what we can expect here in NYC as we enter our awkward, teenage phase of reopening. 

Tamer Hamawi, owner of Gran Electrica in Napa and Brooklyn tells us about how he tried to reopen his dining room in Napa and then closed after a week.  Viewer warning: What he experienced paints a bleak picture for full-service restaurants.  We also have a letter from Michele Gaton, owner of Extra Virgin in the West Village.  She offers a poignant first hand account of how difficult it has been to shut down and then reopen while dealing with the crowds and police and neighbors while trying to enforce safety measures. And she’s on Double Secret Probation with the Mayor. Adam Weisblatt tells us about LA and how restaurants are faring during the reopening out there.  

Let’s blast off with Joey Regs:

Better late than never! Today the Mayor made an exciting announcement regarding Phase 2 of opening which is slated to begin on Monday, June 22nd.  Included within Phase 2 is outdoor dining for restaurants and bars. The program is called “Open Restaurants.”
What we know –
The DOT will be releasing a FREE, streamlined, and self-certifiable application on their website tomorrow, Friday, June 19thThis application will lay out the guidelines and requirements for outdoor dining, and as long as you are able to complete the simple application and certify that you meet the criteria, BOOM! You can utilize the outdoor space, effective almost immediately. Immediately eligible areas include sidewalk space and “curb lane” space. Included within the application and guidance will be a collection of sketches to help operators visualize what they can do with the space.
Overall, there will be a total of five options for outdoor dining – the first three will be part of Phase 2.

  1. Curb lane seating – This will require one of these simple applications described above from the DOT. Restaurants using the roadway area for tables, will be allowed thru Labor Day* There will be restrictions and areas that are ineligible for use, such as, “No Standing Anytime” curbs, bus stops, spaces within 15’ of a fire hydrant, etc. No area can extend past the length of the business frontage and must be separated from the travel lane with a barrier.
  2. Sidewalk seating – This will also require the simple DOT application. This is self-explanatory: it allows for you to add seating adjacent to restaurant (in the same manner that traditional sidewalk café permits allow you to) thru October 31st.
  3. Backyard and patio seating – This will NOT require an application of any kind. Restaurants with access to privately owned outdoor space may open in this space, as long as they follow the appropriate NYS and NYC health guidance.
  4. “Open streets” Initiative – This is set to begin in July (not part of Phase 2), and there will be more news on this in the coming weeks from the DOT.
  5. Pedestrian plaza seating – This will be handled through local business improvement districts (BIDs) – If any local BID would like to open up a qualifying space for use, the BID can email the DOT directly at [email protected]

Additionally, if you have an existing liquor license you will be able to serve in these outdoor areas WITHOUT ANY FURTHER ACTION. The City is working directly with the SLA to extend your license AUTOMATICALLY (at least in this short-term).

Customers are not permitted to gather outside of establishments. Businesses that repeatedly fail to comply will have their Open Restaurant authorization revoked by DOT, and will be referred to the SLA.

Official Guidance from the DOT:

Sidewalk Seating

  • Sidewalk seating area may not exceed business frontage
  • Sidewalk seating must be adjacent to the building and maintain an 8-foot clear path free from certain obstructions between the seating and the curb and a 3-foot clear path on either side
  • Sidewalk seating must not be in a bus stop
  • Sidewalk seating area must not block doorways, standpipes, or Siamese connections
  • Tables and chairs must be provided by applicant

Roadway Seating

  • Roadway seating must be 8 feet wide and may not exceed length of business frontage
  • Roadway seating cannot be installed within a bus stop
  • Roadway seating must be sited at least 15 feet from a hydrant and 8 feet from a crosswalk
  • Roadway seating cannot be set up where curb regulation is No Standing Anytime or No Stopping Anytime
  • Roadway seating may be set up in part time No Standing or No Stopping provided all elements are removed when No Standing or No Stopping is in effect
  • Seating must be separated from the travel lane with a barrier
    • If located on a street with more than two travel lanes, barrier must be min 18-24 inches wide, such as planters, spaced maximum 4 feet apart
    • If located on a street with two travel lanes or less, barrier may be vertical element such as stanchions, barricades, or planters, spaced at maximum 5 feet apart
    • Barriers should not be higher than 36 inches tall, excluding plantings
  • Tables, chairs, and barriers must be provided by applicant

Documents needed for the application:
Restaurants and bars meeting NYC’s Open Restaurants requirements may apply for the program. Please have the following information available to apply:

  • Business name (DBA), address and contact information
  • Food Service Establishment Permit number
  • Dimensions of sidewalk and/or roadway seating areas
  • Establishments planning to serve alcohol must also provide:
    • State Liquor Authority (“SLA”) serial number
    • SLA license information
    • Licensee certification

Next Steps After Filing:
Once NYC is in Phase Two of reopening, restaurants and bars that self-certified will receive an email from the City temporarily authorizing outdoor seating on the City’s sidewalk and/or roadway in front of the establishment, in accordance with all applicable terms and conditions, laws and guidance.
Upon submission of the application and selection of either or both outdoor seating options, establishments will fulfill all the requirements of the New York State Liquor Authority (“SLA”) for the “of right” extension and/or “Municipal” extension and no further filing with SLA will be required.

Outdoor Seating Quick Hits

  • Effective tomorrow, the online application for this will be live
  • You log in with some of your basic business company info
  • Pop in your SLA serial # if you have one
  • The prompts will provide you with guidelines and instructions
  • Instant approval and certificate emailed directly to you
  • Throw the certificate up in the window
  • Start slingin’ negronis as fast as you can


Quick PPP note…
Two forgiveness applications dropped this week.  We will be bringing you a detailed breakdown of them both in a special edition of our newsletter early next week, so stay tuned for that.  There’s a lot to unpack there, and frankly, it’s good news. 

– Joey Regs Out

As you know we are on the front lines, mixing it up with Landy day in and day out.  Over 200 lease negotiations under way as we try to get inside Landy’s head and figure out what time zone they live in.  Here is my report:

Landy Update: From Pitbull to Poodle 

Landy is softening a bit.  The bark remains and Landy can still be dangerous but her bite is not nearly as fierce.  The reality of empty spaces combined with the 1932-A nuclear option of walking away has Landy singing a different tune.  The refrain goes a little something like this:

Owner – Hey Landy, here is a fair offer.  We split the pain of the first few months of closing and we ramp up our rent until we are back to full occupancy.  Then, we discount the future rent to account for the rocky road and depressed real estate market ahead.

Landy – No.  I’ll defer some rent but that’s it. And I don’t do percentage deals so forget that too.

Owner -Bullshit.  We are walking.  Where should I send the keys?

Landy – Wait.  Don’t go.  How about this slightly less lousy deal?

And this tired song and dance continues until Landy either plays ball for real or we walk.  It seems that Landy is starting to see the portfolio dwindling and the usual hardball tactics are failing so maybe they finally plugged into the real world and realize the value of a good tenant.  Or maybe not.  It’s still early.  A landlord attorney I know told me that Landy is still in wait and see mode but I sense them stirring and getting anxious.

Phase 3 is right around the corner so here’s Tamer with a first hand account reopening his Napa restaurant and then shutting it down right quick.

The Reopening Blues – by Tamer Hamawi (This article was originally printed in the SF Gate and then I cut it down)

When we got the green light on May 20 to reopen the Napa location of Gran Eléctrica — our Brooklyn-born Mexican restaurant and tequila/mezcal bar — we were nervous. We had been closed for over two months due to the shelter-in-place orders for COVID-19, mandates that were crucial for public health and safety, but also became a challenge to the existence of restaurants everywhere. Like most, we quickly pivoted to a takeout service model to keep a handful of staff employed and to keep our local community well fed. We knew this could never sustain us long term…. so we had eagerly awaited news of when we could reopen our dining room. Little did we know that we would be shutting back down again after only one week of dine-in service and moving back to takeout.

Reopening in the midst of the pandemic and implementing the necessary public health measures felt at odds with the reasons people like us spend our lives in the restaurant industry. What drives us is so much more than feeding customers: It’s about bringing people together and creating a social space — a place to celebrate and relax. Yet, we felt obliged to try. We could only defer rent payments and use up security deposits for so long. We have vendor and utility bills to pay. We have our employees’ livelihoods and investors to consider. And we have customers desperate to get back out to their favorite spot. And Lord knows we could all use a shot of tequila right now.

Opening safely during a health crisis meant entirely changing how we operate: we took out 50% of our seating capacity and removed all bar traffic. We added sanitizing procedures to ensure that every surface a guest can touch is disinfected, and paid for the extra labor cost to do this. We then stocked up on gloves, masks and sanitizer, spending roughly $5000 on all the various materials now required to operate safely. It was an investment in our survival. However, the revenue gained from a capped capacity simply cannot cover all of our costs, in addition to the added expense of sanitizing procedures and supplies. It’s a constant battle to generate more revenue while shaving down costs. Its all about percentage points. We knew it would never really be feasible, but for the short term it seemed like our only option.

Understanding that only offering takeout would not carry us through for much longer, we began the process of rehiring our team, and opened our doors for dine-in service. After an initially positive response from our staff, it quickly became apparent that this was not sustainable for us. There was already very little incentive to return to work, as unemployment checks (with added economic impact payment) are now significantly larger than what most staff could earn working within these new conditions. Even at the bare minimum of staffing levels, we ran a labor cost of 57% of sales in our first week. With food and beverage costs at roughly 30% and direct operating expenses at 25% – that’s a net loss of 12%.

Additionally, our staff essentially became front-line workers with the increased risk of exposure to the virus while making half the usual tips. It just wasn’t worth it for many of them. And I don’t blame them. We all wore masks through our entire shifts, yet faced many guests who did not, as it’s obviously impossible to eat and drink wearing a mask. Trying to police guest mask usage also became an additional responsibility falling on management, that was certainly not what we signed up for — but clearly part of our new normal.

We realized over the course of this first week, that it was practically impossible to fully protect our staff. Strictly following all the suggested health and safety guidelines, implementing the tedious and costly additional steps to offer the safest possible environment, is still no guarantee that we can keep staff and customers safe.

The goal of reopening was to minimize our losses until we can offer the type of hospitality and experience that has kept us motivated through other hard times — a point in time that cannot yet be determined, in what seems now like a very unknowable future. There were too many people depending on us and we needed to reopen. But at what cost?

After a week of dine-in service, moving about a spaced-out and lifeless dining room with my mask on, trying desperately to discern the faces of our regular customers, and spending most of my time disinfecting and sanitizing touch points, to me felt so wrong on so many levels. I’m sure some restaurants will do their best to make it work, and depending on their particular circumstances maybe they will.

Sadly for us, it was time to shut it back down. We will continue offering takeout, and we will continue to negotiate with our landlord. We are getting some smaller event inquiries, and considering throwing some fun and intimate ‘PPP’s’ (private patio parties) in our backyard. We are smart and creative, and we are confident we can figure out new ways to sustain this business until things change for the better, but with the very real threat of a second wave of infections as the country opens up, all we can do is take it day by day as the situation develops. 

Clearly no one knows when we can safely reopen with some kind of normalcy, but in the meantime operating with the current health and safety guidelines just won’t cut it. It doesn’t make sense financially, it puts our staff and their loved ones at risk, and ultimately it’s just not who we are. We want nothing more than to get back to doing what we do best, but we’re at a loss as to how to move forward successfully. I’m left wondering … Do we even have a future as independent business owners, or is the system geared towards a smaller selection of chain restaurants? How do we pivot our way out of this and still remain passionate about the career path we chose? How do we make a restaurant, well, a restaurant again?

Tamer HamawiBack to NYC and  a peek into the new world of Monday’s Phase 2, here is letter that Michele wrote addressing the current outdoor drinking and social distancing conundrums. 

My name is Michele Gaton. I am the co-owner of Extra Virgin Restaurant. It’s a Mediterranean restaurant located at 259 West 4th street in the heart of the West Village.  I am an African American mother of two boys, ages 8 & 12 and my partner Joseph Fortunato is Italian American with a wife and son who is age 13 but we’re really both just a couple of kids born and raised in Jamaica, Queens.  Joey is the chef and I run the front of the house.  

We opened Extra Virgin in April of 2004 and have become a beloved staple of the West Village and our community.  16 years later we are all struck with the Coronavirus and we are struggling with how we can move forward.
When the Citywide lockdown initially came into effect we were forced to let go of our 40+ employees, 90% of which are parents.  Joey and I, determined not to lose our business, kept the restaurant open adhering to all the rules as best as we could.  We improvised, we created a take out stand and continued to make deliveries. The 2 of us stayed on with a few key kitchen and front of the house staff paying them via Venmo from our personal accounts.  As a result, our take out stand is a hit and as we continue to change, adjust and evolve, we are understanding how to be more efficient in our current pandemic.

We have posted signs informing customers to:

  • Wear a mask
  • Stay 6 feet apart.
  • Inform customers no alcohol without food.
  • Respect our neighbors
  • Take out, don’t hang out.
  • We have the sidewalk marked so everyone knows what 6 feet is. 

Once we received our PPP loan we offered our employees, all of whom come from diverse ethnic backgrounds which include: African American, Brazilian, Chilean, Chinese, Colombian, Croatian, Dominican, Ecuadorian, Filipino, French, Guatemalan, Haitian, Irish, Israeli, Italian, Jamaican, Macedonian, Mexican, Moroccan, Polish, Puerto Rican, Russian, Senegalese, Spanish, Trinidadian and Ukrainian, their jobs back.  Their job descriptions are different because everything is different.  We’ve started to open for breakfast so that we could increase our hours and get more people on the schedule.  Again we are just trying to adjust and evolve as best we can.

Here are our issues.

  • It is very difficult to police people to socially distance themselves so our street gets busy with small groups of people not always 6 feet apart.  
  • They (The 6th Precinct) are inundated with 311 calls from our neighbors.  
  • Though we are really following all of the rules, we hear we are on the “Mayor’s Watchlist” due to the volume of calls they are receiving and that we may be hearing from the SLA (New York State Liquor Authority)

The police do come through trying to get people moving and we really are trying to work with them (The 6th Precinct).  They have given us signs which we have posted and I’ve even asked them to announce the rules over their loudspeaker, but we need more help or something needs to change.

We have started an online petition requesting that the city: 
“Open West 4th St Bet Charles & Perry for expanded outdoor dining and close to traffic.”
You can find the petition here:

We need to keep this restaurant afloat and keep everyone employed.
We also need to stay safe.
We want to be employed, purposeful  and mindful of our community.
Please help us do a better job.

Michele Gaton

More from our friends in LA and Phase 3.  Hey, they are living it right now, they are the best to tell us what’s what.

A New Day, A New Phase in LA

Re-opening restaurants are gathering steam across the city and an even faster push has taken place in the surrounding counties.  Indoor dining rooms are now permitted, limited to 60% capacity and maintaining social distancing protocols. Bars may also operate if they serve some kind of food, although still no bar seating.  The city has finally moved to allow dining with alcohol service on the sidewalks, but have not to my knowledge executed any of the street or lane closures they committed to.

If your restaurant has a serious patio or sits on a wide and nice sidewalk, there are plenty of asses in seats.  A number of the larger operations across the city are back up in action, with more soon to follow.  People are definitely starting to sit inside, but the money is firmly on outdoor dining and continued takeaway, delivery, and market concepts.  Little jewel boxes without comfortable sidewalk space are still in a particularly tight spot.

LA is continuing to see an unfortunate rise in Covid infections, making up close to 50% of new cases across the entire state.  It feels like people are still very much aware that we are not through the woods, and continue to take things seriously while visiting restaurants.  It feels like development has hit the pause button, which I hope continues to provide opportunities for better lease terms from landlords – I see a lot of For Lease signs on new spaces across the city.

Not as much to report this week, as we’re still awaiting a new set of regulation expected to be released by Friday.  Dining in the city definitely feels like it’s transitioning – but just what we’re transitioning to is still a major question.

Most importantly, Black Lives Matter.  If you’re visiting LA, here is a list of black-owned restaurants that are very much worth supporting.

Love from the Sprawl,

Reopening Guide

As promised in last week’s issue, we will be rolling out a multi-part “reopening guide” over the next few weeks.  Some sections will come directly from the Helbraun Levey team, while others will come from some of our industry friends and colleagues.  The first installment debuts today, and comes courtesy of our longtime friend, Beth Torin. Beth was the former Executive Director of Food Safety at the NYC Dept of Health, so she knows a thing or two about this topic.  Click the link below to read Beth’s piece on reopening safely and effectively.
Installment #1: Safety First

In the words of Nina Simone:  “You’ve got to learn to leave the table. When love’s no longer being served”.

Good Night,