When we ask Armel Joly what his state of mind is, he talks about Jean-Pierre Dick, the French sailor who lost the keel of his monohull in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean in 2013. “I’m not in the middle of the ocean, whatever… But for me, we’ve lost a keel and we have to get the boat back to safe harbor. And we are not immune to a squall that will tip the boat“, Underlines the co-owner of the French restaurant OCabanon in Chelsea.
Like other professionals in the sector, the entrepreneur sails on sight. It has opened a twenty-seat terrace (much less than inside its two-level restaurant) and reduced its staff. Fortunately, his store of French products, operated in partnership with the French Wink platform, offers him a lifeline. “You have to accept this situation and put yourself in the idea that you are not the only one. My biggest concern today is to hold on“, He confides.
“We have to project ourselves into something we don’t know“, Explains Alexandra Claveau, co-owner with her husband of the Winemak’her wine bar, which opened in the middle of a pandemic at Park Slope. To comply with the changing rules enacted by the City and State of New York, the entrepreneur had to be flexible. Much like the bars that launched “Cuomo chips” (named after the Governor of New York State) to comply with the ban on serving alcohol without food, it created “Cuomo tapas”To accompany its selection of wines made by French winemakers. Alexandra Claveau also invested the little funds available to her new business in setting up a terrace, but she and her husband had to redo everything after a change in regulations relating to the size of the borders.
Vanessa Pacini, who founded Ange Noir Café in Bushwick, had the same setback. Its twelve-seater terrace was the right height and width, but a space between two planters on the structure made an inspector react. “We could not have direct access between the street and the terrace“, She specifies. She and her husband were able to put things right, not without spending time and money and a lot of stress. Today, like the rest of the restorers, she lives while waiting for the authorization of the interior restoration (indoor dining). Originally scheduled for July, the date has been postponed. Recently, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio hinted that indoor service would not resume until 2021. (This is allowed with restrictions outside of New York City).
To justify his position, he referred to Hong Kong, where a surge in Covid-19 cases has been recorded following the reopening of bars and restaurants. The argument does not convince the restaurateurs gathered in the Independent Restaurant Owners Association Rescue. They threaten the city and state with legal action if indoor catering is not restored immediately (with hospitality limitations).
In the meantime, winter is scary. “One wonders which heaters will be authorized. Are the authorities going to give us the right information on time? Should we use gas or propane? Set up tents? It’s very fuzzy“, Continues Vanessa Pacini, who does not hide her“big frustration“. “Why do we open the gyms and not the restaurants? Why do we let customers go to the bathroom indoors when we don’t let them eat?”Spacious, Ange Noir Café could easily accommodate customers indoors while respecting social distancing measures, she assures. With around forty places in Winemak’her, Alexandra Claveau also says she is ready. “I’m not even asking for a 50% occupancy limit. Even with 10 people inside, we will have space and I will arrive at a decent number to live“.
Each day that passes brings its share of closures, as evidenced by the sad list maintained by the Eater news site. Among the missing are the French restaurants Augustine, Côté Soleil, RDV, Cassis and Vaucluse. The penalties did not spare the French either. Bar Tabac restaurant on Smith Street had its alcohol license suspended for two weeks after inspectors saw unmasked employees outside the restaurant.
Founder of the Eclair Bakery in Midtown, an enlarged version of which opened in 2019, Stéphane Pourrez had to close his establishment for several weeks for lack of staff. It has since reopened but has lost 75% of its turnover compared to last year and reduced its workforce by half. He was able to benefit from a PPP loan, but if he wants to transform it into a grant, he must take over all of his teams. “I don’t see myself picking everyone up right away. We don’t have the production for“, He said.
However, this seasoned entrepreneur sees reasons for optimism. Its clientele is gradually returning as Midtown is repopulated.
Despite reduced opening hours – restaurants must close at 11pm – Alexandra Claveau has managed to build up a loyal clientele and benefits from the closure of the street to traffic on weekends. “It is day to day. Nobody knows what tomorrow will bring, adds Vanessa Pacini. We still love New York. We will fight for our business. Everyone is trying to find solutions“.
For all regulatory constraints, Armel Joly recalls that the State of New York authorizes restaurants to sell their bottles of wine – “like the liquor store“. “It is an axis in which we have developed“, He says. In its spacious restaurant, several tables have been removed and floor markers installed for a future reopening of the interior. “I remain very positive. Otherwise, we don’t get by“. He recalls that Jean-Pierre Dick, the reckless navigator, has managed to get back safely. “Her keel fell at 11 p.m. He said to himself: I’m going to sleep, eat and not make a decision on the fly. I’m doing the same thing right now ”.