This week, mother nature will be providing a direct demonstration of the extreme strain of operating a restaurant outdoors in December.
Inclement weather, such as the Nor’easter expected to slam New York City on Wednesday is one of many reasons that eateries on Arthur Avenue, the Bronx’s most iconic restaurant district, will not even attempt a streetside setup for the upcoming weeks following Governor Cuomo’s ban on indoor dining.
Specifically, Enzo’s, a staple of the block along with Gerbasi Ristorante, and local diner M & G restaurant, have all broken down their streetside dining setups, according to Belmont Business Improvement District treasurer, Frank Franz.
“Sidewalk dining is clearly on the way out,” he said regarding the upcoming winter months, calling the setups neither profitable nor widely used during weeks of cold weather.
Franz also said that after two months of inquiry, the BID has not been given clear guidance from the mayor’s office or Department of Transportation on how snow plowing and removal will operate without damaging or barricading outdoor fixtures on Arthur Avenue and citywide.
During the summer, the BID and avenue were leading NYC in creative approaches to outdoor dining by closing its street to create Piazza di Belmont, a fully al fresco dining district open on weekends. The treasurer said that attempting outdoor dining in the winter would be a counterproductive “recipe for pneumonia,” putting both employees and patrons at risk of illness.
Calling that open-air setup both successful and a “much nicer dining experience” compared to outdoor seating next to automotive traffic, Franz said that it still wasn’t enough for restaurants to profit while holding a mandated quarter capacity — this second closure is feared to only make matters worse for the industry.
Earlier in the fall, which is usually Belmont’s busy season, Arthur Avenue lost one of its adjacent restaurants, MangiPasta on E. 187th Street, the treasurer told the Bronx Times.
Critical of Governor Andrew Cuomo, Franz sharply questioned why so many restrictions continue to hinder dining despite Cuomo’s report of an estimated 1.4 percent COVID-19 infection rate coming by way of restaurants, compared to 74 percent being attributed to those living in the same household.
“This should all be reexamined with more local input from restaurants and people in the business, somebody should consider the future too,” Franz said, adding that while “certainly we should take all logical precautions,” New York can not become similar to London following World War II.
Fortunately for the area, holiday retail shopping has continued at a good pace for those getting the Italian essentials like holiday baskets and Borgatti’s ravioli and noodle pastas — though dining must also thrive for Arthur Avenue to succeed as a whole, according to the treasurer.
As for those restaurants which have opted to combat the winter elements, one famed business operating inside (and now out of) the Arthur Avenue retail market is pulling out all the stops to continue providing a quality dining experience.
Mike’s Deli has created and heavily invested in an elaborate, shed-like, open setup which is equipped with industrial heaters and feels just about as close to eating indoors as could be.
Greco invested about $7,000 into the setup, which is now decorated with poinsettia flowers, Christmas lights and a tree in an effort to keep the one-of-a-kind “experience” of going to Arthur Avenue during the holiday season.
“We knew last year we were going to lose Easter, but losing Christmas is a massive loss up here for everyone and we all feel it,” Greco told, adding how cost inefficient it is to keep electrical heaters running during all hours of operation.
That crushing blow for the block and New York’s tourism industry is one that Franz fears will not be something quick to bounce back from in a post-COVID-19 world given the current trend.
He also expressed concern for Arthur Avenue’s near future if the New York Yankees play home games without fans in 2021 as well.
“Every Yankee game at home packs this neighborhood to the extent that limousines are double parked,” Franz said, adding that no fans would “severely impact our restaurants.”