Despite COVID-19 Restrictions, Israeli Restaurant Owners in New York Remain Hopeful

As Gov. Cuomo announces indoor dining will be suspended, further hurting their businesses, the vast majority believe they'll be able to weather the storm

Danielle Ziri
Danielle Ziri
New York
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Customers sit outside a restaurant offering outdoor service, Thursday October, 22, 2020, in Kew Gardens in the Queens borough of New York.
Customers sit outside a restaurant offering outdoor service, Thursday October, 22, 2020, in Kew Gardens in the Queens borough of New York.Credit: Bebeto Matthews,AP
Danielle Ziri
Danielle Ziri
New York

NEW YORK – Indoor dining in New York City will come to a halt on Monday, Governor Andrew Cuomo announced, and according to a new study. the majority of Israeli restaurant owners in the state – 77 percent – say their business cannot survive without it. 

The governor acknowledged indoor dining is not at the top of a list of settings driving the rise in new COVID-19 cases, led by household gatherings, but said rising hospitalizations and New York City's high density were worrying factors.

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"You put the CDC caution on indoor dining together with the rate of transmission and the density and the crowding, that is a bad situation," Cuomo told a news briefing on Friday.

“When there is snow and negative degrees, who wants to sit outside?” Israeli chef Einat Admony, who owns the popular Balaboosta restaurant in the West Village, told Haaretz. “Even if you built the best outdoor spot, sitting in a restaurant with a coat, a hat and all that makes no sense.”

The report published on Thursday by the New York-Israel Business Alliance – which aims to create economic opportunities between New York State and Israel – however showed that 93 percent of them remain overall confident that their businesses will survive the pandemic.

As coronavirus cases have been on the rise, Governor Cuomo had warned on Monday, after federal health officials issued a new guidance last week describing indoor dinning as “high-risk,” that indoor dining, currently permitted at 25 percent capacity, could once again be halted.

Separately, Cuomo announced on Friday that a state review panel unanimously approved the recommendation by an FDA advisory panel to approve Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine, and said an additional 346,000 doses of a vaccine manufactured by Moderna are expected in New York the week of December 21. A first shipment of 170,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine could arrive in the state as soon as this weekend, Cuomo said.

Chef Einat Admony outside her Balaboosta restaurant in New York's West Village, August 2020.Credit: Danielle Ziri

There were 10,600 new positive cases of COVID-19 in New York State on Tuesday.

Thursday’s report included 173 Israeli-owned restaurants across New York State. Their owners were interviewed between October and December 2020. Over half of the respondents – 62 percent –said they feel the government has been helpful to them during this year’s economic crisis.

Much of the help was provided in the form of Paycheck Protection Program loans.  Under the program, restaurants can turn their loan into a grant if they spend 60 percent of the funds on workers' salaries and hiring staff back to pre-pandemic levels by the end of 2020.  

Although 93 percent of Israeli restaurant owners in New York said they received such financial help, at least 70 percent of them still needed to fire staff members. Half of the respondents also said they believe additional government stimulus would be helpful to keep them afloat.  

Back in the summer, restaurants were allowed to offer outdoor seating including on sidewalks and curbsides, Israeli restaurant owners in New York City had told Haaretz they were pleased with the assistance they received, especially compared to the situation of their counterparts in Israel.

The manager of the popular SoHo eatery 12 Chairs Cafe told Haaretz in August that the experiences of restaurateurs coping with COVID-19 restrictions in New York and Israel were like “night and day.” In New York, he said, “the government mobilized and helped” whereas back in Israel, restaurants didn’t receive anything like that treatment.

Admony too had said in the summer that the PPP loan allowed her eatery to function: “If it wasn’t for that, I don’t know if Balaboosta would have ever reopened,” she said.

But this week she made the decision to close the restaurant for the winter.

“The situation isn’t good,” she admitted. “I wanted to leave the restaurant open so that my employees have work but it just doesn’t make sense anymore, we are losing a lot of money.”

Despite the difficulties, Admony says she trusts Governor Cuomo.
“He understands the value of restaurants in New York.” she said. “He  just wants to keep his state with low infection rates. What else can he do?”

The Israeli chef added she is hopeful that another PPP loan will be offered soon: “New York's restaurant industry stands at the forefront of a vexing, high-stakes public policy decision that, in many cases, pits economic livelihood against physical health," said president of the New York-Israel Business Alliance Aaron Kaplowitz. 

"The feedback we're receiving from an industry that must squeeze a profit out of tight margins is that it needs more help," he added.

Reuters contributed to this report.

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