Welcome to the Jungle.By David Helbraun
on May 7, 2020 in Coronavirus
Welcome to the jungle, Mnooch. You really thought that you were going to win any type of fight with Axl Rose? You’re only 57 years old so you must know who he is. Why would you fuck with him? He’s a hardcore rocker and all-around tough guy, lived a life of excess and drinking and drugs and well, fights. But you, Steven Mnuchin, from Connecticut and The Riverdale Country School, think you can kick Axl’s ass?
It was ugly and frustrating to watch. The weakness, the poor strategy, the fumbled execution and the crappy messaging. Sound familiar? He was so flustered by a little Twitter skirmish that he posted the Liberian flag instead of Old Betsy. And this is the guy to guide us out of the biggest threat to our businesses that we will ever know? Our fearless, feckless leader of the money with his head either in the sand or so far up the President’s butt that he can’t see a thing. Oh, and thanks for getting your revenge on the world Mnooch by lowering the cap on EIDL loans from 2 million to $150K today. You really showed us. Gimme a break.
On the other hand, Governor Cuomo did a few nice things for the industry today. First, he extended the moratorium on commercial evictions until August 20th. This means that your landlord can’t evict you over the next 3 months if, say, you can’t pay rent. This also gives tenants a little breathing room and more time to see what develops before having to settle on future terms with their landlord. Also, Cuomo said no late fees and those suckers add up.
Next, the Governor mentioned that security deposits can be used for rent. This could be a biggie if it means that landlords are required to dig into the security if a tenant requests it to pay rent. We don’t have any more details on this as we have not seen an Executive Order published yet. We will keep very close tabs on this and will keep you. posted here.
Plus, I was also thrilled to hear The Governor say that he was working on getting landlord’s relief from the banks. It was said as an aside but it rang loudly in my ears. It means that we are finally working our way right up the money chain. We tenants rile up the landlords. They get agitated and their very strong real estate lobby complains to our dearly elected and voila, the government requires the banks to give the landlords a break on their mortgages. We expect that once the squeeze is eased and we can all breathe a little, it will buy us the time we need to negotiate the future when it comes a bit more into focus. Let’s watch closely what happens with the banks and the governor’s office and mortgage relief.
Lastly, the word on the street is that the City Council “no personal liability bill” is going all the way and that it will be passed into law by the Mayor. It is expected to be watered down from the full monty of absolutely no personal liability to something much tamer with certain landlord protections. Details are fuzzy but we hope to learn more over the coming days. Could be a game changer.
All in all, a lot of nice little victories today. Axl buried Mnooch. The Governor started to address our concerns and City Council is making moves. More days like this and our odds will start looking better and better.
We are always interested in exploring ways to redefine the restaurant industry and try to adapt it to today’s world. One of the big ideas that is getting traction is that of open streets in cities where restaurants can spread their wings and their seating. HL client and friend, Henry Rinehart, the longtime NYC restaurant owner of Henry’s on the Upper West Side, has some important ideas about outdoor space and restaurants. Please settle in and give it a good read.
A Safe Space -Open Streets + Retail Rescue by Henry Rinehart
My Dear Colleagues,
I am so happy that we are all coming together at this moment of need. Never before have I experienced such communication and collaboration among leaders in the hospitality industry. Historically, we’ve treated each other as competitors in this hungry city and nationally. Our time for urgent action is now and we must come together if we are to survive.
Chef Gabrielle Hamilton of Prune spoke for many of us when she said, “…the coronavirus did not suddenly shine light on an unknown fragility. We’ve all known, and for a rather long time. The past five or six years have been alarming.” I personally closed my restaurant, Henry’s, at the end of 2018, after a nearly 20 year run. Opening in 1999, literally last century, I repaid my partners’ initial investment in 18 months, and we all made good money for over a decade. We then signed another fifteen year lease, and watched our profitability disappear. And, that was before this global pandemic. Our industry and our way of life has been under siege for many years. The simultaneous shuttering of all of our businesses has brought us together in our hour of need. We are all now one industry, collectively fighting for our very survival.
In this fight there will be only one dish on the menu of the near future – Safety. Restaurateurs and chefs will prepare, sell and serve only this one item as they try to reopen. We all must operate safely if we are to continue to support staff, guests, vendors, landlords, tax collectors, and our families. Everyone is trying to figure out how to serve guests in a way that will make them willing and able to patronize what are now storefront businesses. Everyone is united in the battle to serve safely, and, in an age of social distancing, safety requires space.
Restaurateurs and chefs are already experts on safety and space. We have all spent more hours on health safety compliance than our fellow executives in most other industries. We have also spent endless hours negotiating the most efficient use of space in the design and operation of our restaurants. Urban restaurateurs are experts in the best practices for protecting the public health and the efficient use of space.
As well as being a successful restaurateur on Broadway for over two decades, I have proudly served on the Transportation Alternatives’ Advisory Council for over a decade with David Byrne and many other illustrious New Yorkers. I have been a transportation advocate for over three decades in a desperate fight to save our city and my life as a dedicated cyclist. I have commuted by bike since my very first job in a restaurant when I was sixteen. I have biked the mean streets of NYC since 1979. I was a bike messenger in NYC in 1980, and survived more crashes with cars then I care to count. I have also managed professional delivery riders in NYC for over thirty years. During this pandemic, my worlds of business and advocacy have collided in a way that gives me great hope.
This collision has happened on the formerly vibrant streets of our city. Transportation is another thing that we all have had in common besides the life-altering event of this pandemic. Every single one of us uses transportation every day. We all commute. All retail business take deliveries and most make deliveries. Foot traffic has always been the life blood of our business, and that was before we were all forced into the delivery business.
Many of you have been following Mayor deBlasio’s plan to open 100 miles of our city streets to allow for the space necessary for safety and social distancing. For those of you who have not been following closely, open streets are a modern urban transportation design in which valuable public space is given to pedestrians, cyclists, emergency vehicles, and buses. In a world of open streets, the vast amount of public space that we give over to the use and free parking of the private motor vehicle is re-purposed for the greater civil good.
Cities across our country and across the world are employing open streets to save the lives of citizens, save retail businesses, and save the very air we breathe. London, Paris, Barcelona, Bogota, Lima, Milan, Berlin, Santa Monica, and Oakland have all recognized this new understanding of the modern streetscape. Urban communities can no longer afford the luxury of unfettered private motor vehicle use in our city centers.
Currently, one of the most compelling examples of the growing open streets movement is taking place in the capital of Lithuania, Vilnius. The mayor of this gorgeous world heritage site has opened the narrow streets throughout the city center. His plan has expanded space in the streets for restaurants and cafés to serve al fresco. Additionally, the mayor has given €400 to every essential worker to be spent exclusively in the city’s restaurants and cafés.
I am writing to you today because there is a solution to our current problem. Open streets are literally sitting in front of every single one of our businesses. Safe and open streets generate foot traffic, the life blood of every retail business. Every person in our city uses open streets on their way to work, and as they patronize our businesses. It is time that we demand our fair share of access to this vital public space.
The time for action is now. Operators around the world know that weather is the single largest driver of demand. NYC operators know that each side of the street is its own micro-climate. Micro-climates don’t just determine the quality of wine, they also determine the success of dining al fresco. The demand for our services will explode in the coming weeks, and we would do well to be prepared to safely welcome our guests with open arms.
Please join me in supporting the movement for open streets in New York City. Our fearless advocate, Andrew Rigie of the NYC Hospitality Alliance, is writing an op-ed piece this week on open streets. Please let him know what you think both about his op-ed and how open streets can best serve the needs of your business and your community. Transportation Alternatives’ new leader, Danny Harris, and his team have built a wonderful web site to serve the needs of the Open Streets Coalition. Please support their work.
I have posted press references and research on this topic on my website, Henry Rinehart.Media. Please click through, and enjoy the success stories born of open streets around the world. Please read the research by our own DOT on the “Economic Benefits of Sustainable Streets.” Open streets should be available to each and everyone of us.
David Helbraun has done so much for all of us. He has set the table for us to talk to each other, to our landlords and others, all the while guiding us with expert legal counsel. He has modeled a new post-pandemic paradigm for business – working together for the good of all. Please let David know your thoughts when you call him to say thank you.
I encourage you to make plans for what you think are the most feasible open streets adjacent to your business, keeping in mind that public transit is our friend, and buses require street space too. Talk to your colleagues about your ideas for open streets, and share best practices with each other. Finally, talk to everyone you know (esp. landlords, vendors, and politicians) about open streets. You have supported them all for years, and now it’s time to call in favors, while continuing to work together. This is our moment of need, and we need a solution that positively impacts every single one of us. The solution lies in our open streets.
May we all be together again soon, while dining in our open streets.
Governor Cuomo has my respect and I think he’s doing a good job. He’s also funny. We all need a laugh right about now so watch the Governor talk about boyfriends and meatballs: https://m.youtube.com/watch?feature=youtu.be&v=PM-dwTBDTE0
David Helbraun is the Founding Partner and Chairman of the firm. He is a lifelong entrepreneur who has been running successful businesses in New York City for years.