NYC restaurants stop offering takeout due to coronavirus crisis

New York’s once-thriving restaurant scene is fast becoming a graveyard.

Less than a week after being ordered to close all dining room service and focus solely on takeout, eateries are pulling the plug on that business, too. Takeout and delivery orders in the face of crescendoing coronavirus contamination fears just aren’t pulling in enough dough to keep the lights on. Plus, it’s not safe, restaurateurs say.

Cristina Castaneda on Saturday shuttered her last two remaining restaurants, including Mexican restaurant El Mitote and Mediterranean eatery Ella Social, after deciding she couldn’t continue to sell food without endangering her and her staff’s health.

“I worked there all day and just couldn’t find a safe way to continue operating,” she said late Saturday night. “We are going home.”

The economics also weren’t working, Castaneda, said. “We are really left with nothing, and I’m talking nothing: two bank accounts went to zero within one week after the last payroll.”

New York’s restaurant industry has been suffering for months as fear of the coronavirus has sent people scurrying for cover. Any hope of a quick recovery was squashed last week when Gov. Cuomo banned all sitdown dining in an effort to stanch the spread of the virus, which threatens to overwhelm city hospitals as the number of cases skyrocket.

But takeout isn’t the panacea some people thought it would be. And it’s been especially tough for restaurants that previously relied on people sitting down to a table to eat. Takeout business for this bunch was generally less than 10 percent of overall sales in healthy times, industry sources said.

“We are losing money to do it, because we still have to pay basics like rent and electricity, but we are open so I can pay people something,” explained Jeremy Wladis, president of the Restaurant Group, which owns Good Enough to Eat, Harvest Kitchen and Brad’s Burgers & BBQ.

In offering only takeout, Wladis had to lay off around 75 people and shift to operating with a skeleton crew of 15-to-20 part-timers on rotating shifts — and he said he still can’t make ends meet.

He launched a GoFundMe page for laid-off staff and raised more than $7,000 the first day, including from regulars NBA Commissioner Adam Silver and his wife Maggie. “Friends and family have just poured money into my team — to all the employees who aren’t even eligible for government assistance,” Wladis said.

Reopening, restaurateurs said, will require extraordinary relief from the government, insurance companies and landlords. “I don’t see a way unless there are some bailouts,” Castaneda said. “My landlords have been very supportive to me in the past, but I don’t know in today’s circumstances what will be possible for them either.”

Mark Amadei, an investor in Manhattan’s Cafeteria and Empire Diner, worries the pandemic will change the landscape of New York forever. “Cafeteria never shut down during 9/11, or the Lehman collapse, and got a car-size generator to stay open after Hurricane Sandy,” he recalled. “This situation is apocalyptic for the restaurant business. How sad would the city be if the only places that survived were chains? It makes me depressed to even think about it.”

Call it a faint silver lining, but it is true that diners are finding it easier to get a taste of dishes from restaurants that used to be hard to get into, like Nick & Toni’s in East Hampton.

The popular Mediterranean eatery is now open for takeout — and the lines out of the door are kaput. On Saturday night, for example, there were just a trickle of customers coming in to pick up their orders.

“It’s hard to know if they’ll be able to keep it up if it continues this way,” said a customer, who did not want to be named.

Mark Smith, a co-owner of the famed 32-year-old eatery, said the takeout experiment is going “nicely,” but admitted they are doing it in part to help their staffers.

“It helps us keep some of our employees working and to get some revenue coming in,” he said. “We’re getting regular orders, like four entrees, what you would normally order — not 20 chickens.

“We were told to close our restaurants in 12 hours. I don’t know too many businesses or industries who have been told that right now,” Smith added. “We are just trying to get our sea legs.”

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