It was a long, brutal run for restaurants under Bill de Blasio – and some that survived are hoping they finally have a friendly ear in the mayor’s office.
Eric Adams — an outspoken vegetarian with a taste for fancy food – celebrated his Nov. 2 election at the posh hangouts Zero Bond and Casa Cipriani. Just before and after his swearing in – on Dec. 25 and Jan. 4, respectively – Adams was twice spotted at Nello, the pricey celebrity hangout on Madison Avenue.
The latter occasion was the day Adams infamously called cooks and dishwashers “low skill.” But some restaurant owners say that Adams, a former restaurant worker himself, already has done more to listen to their problems than De Blasio did in eight years.
“I was able to talk to [Adams] twice about what restaurants need, and he was also the first mayor to go into our kitchen and talk to the staff,” Thomas Makkos, owner of Nello, told Side Dish.
Makkos is among a growing number of restaurateurs who are hoping that it’s a turning point for the industry.
“It feels like this mayor is looking to keep us in business instead of putting us out of business, which is how it felt in the past – like we weren’t working together,” said Lure Group CEO Aristotle “Telly” Hatzigeorgiou, who owns Slate in Chelsea as well as Clinton Hall, which has locations in Manhattan, Brooklyn, the Bronx and Staten Island.
Hatzigeorgiou, who hosted a fundraiser for Adams last fall, said he hopes Adams’ administration will give “more warnings before bombarding restaurants with thousands of dollars” in violations.
More broadly, restaurateurs have begun to float the idea of Adams appointing a “restaurant czar” to help them cut the city’s red tape – particularly when it comes to opening a new location.
“There are a lot of good people working really hard within the city right now, and this would help empower them to support the restaurant and nightlife sectors as effectively as possible,” Andrew Rigie, director of NYC’s Hospitality Alliance, said of the “czar” idea.
Reps for the mayor’s office didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment on Monday.
In particular, a restaurant czar could better coordinate between the city’s department of small business services and the food and beverage partnership within it, as well as the office of nightlife within the mayor’s office of media and entertainment, Rigie said.
At the moment, Rigie added, the Department of Buildings and the FDNY often give conflicting information on restaurant buildouts.
“Coordinated inspections could help ensure better clarity about what owners need to do in order to get their businesses open,” Rigie said. “We need to streamline the process to open restaurants, cutting red tape and coordinating better so restaurants can open faster.”
“It can take months to open a restaurant. It’s rough, and every postponement and delay costs money,” Hatzigeorgiou added. “We need to keep people safe but we also need to open faster. We are trying to create jobs and pay taxes and get people employed.”
Last week, Adams signed an executive order mandating city agencies who have been insufficiently “business friendly” to scale back their regulations to “reduce needless fines and penalties” and also “slash red tape.”
“If you just open a business, you make a mistake, you should not be hit with a fine that’s going to prevent you from keeping your doors open,” Adams said.
Adams is also one of 28 mayors who signed a letter to Congress urging federal lawmakers to refill the Restaurant Revitalization Fund — especially as global supply chain issues and omicron chaos has hurt an already struggling industry. Around 100,000 restaurants and bars received funds, averaging $272,000.
That was before it ran out of money — leaving 177,000 additional applicants high and dry. In New York, only 28% of the 5,500 restaurants that received awards were in low or moderate income communities, according to a report from state comptroller Thomas DiNapoli.
“When I become mayor of this city, this is going to be the city where nightlife lives and grows,” Adams said during his election-night stint at Zero Bond, with Ja Rule, Forest Whitaker, Chris Rock and Eric Schmidt in attendance. “Not only Manhattan. We’re going to the South Bronx, South Jamaica Queens, Staten Island. Exposing all the people to the great nightlife because it’s jobs.”
Restaurateurs like Hatzigeorgiou also want to see the to-go cocktail program return.
“It creates a critical revenue stream for many restaurants,” Hatzigeorgiou said.
For now, restaurants — those that have so far survived the pandemic, including the new Omicron wave — need all the help they can get.
“Business is down 50 to 60 percent in the past three weeks. People are afraid to go out or they are infected,” Makkos said, adding that supply chain issues have caused food prices to double.
Dover sole, for example, is up from $16 to $31 — but he’s eating the cost as his prices are famously stratospheric as is.