With NYC Restaurant Week about to come to a close and more than 530 eateries across the five boroughs back participating, many would say it was nothing short of a success.
But not in the Bronx, where only six of its restaurants joined in the promotional event.
Another metric to gauge as the city continues to pull its way out of the COVID pandemic, re-launching an in-person Restaurant Week, which kicked off on July 19 and runs through Aug. 22, was a welcome site for many patrons and city officials. Beginning in 1992, the in-person dining experience traditionally takes place all across the five boroughs where diners can enjoy hundreds of eateries. From outdoor to indoor options, the selection of dining provides a versatile menu for all customers and participants. Restaurants may choose to participate in a select week or the full five-week booking offering pre-fixed menus.
The majority of Bronx restaurants didn’t participate this year likely due to the borough’s ongoing recovery challenges presented by COVID-19.
One of the few establishments in the borough that joined in Restaurant Week, however, was Mario’s Restaurant on Arthur Avenue — in the Little Italy section of the Bronx — where the Migliucci family has been in business since 1919.
Owner Regina Migliucci-Delfici told the Bronx Times she registered for Restaurant Week because she thought it was a good way to attract recurring customers.
“We wanted to participate because after such a long and tough year in the pandemic, we wanted to provide some specials and fun for locals and all people all across the city,” she said. “So they will hopefully join us again later in the year.”
Prior to the onset of the pandemic, more than 20 Bronx restaurants took part in the summer 2019 NYC Restaurant Week and even for a scaled-down takeout-only version last winter the numbers remained on par. The “week” was shelved in 2020 due to COVID-19 and the closure of non-essential business.
But the turnout this summer was a significant letdown, according to Lisa Sorin, president of the Bronx Chamber of Commerce.
“I was certainly very surprised to hear how few restaurants from the Bronx were participating,” she said. “We have never had this low of a turnout before, and it’s definitely disappointing to see.”
Alyssa Schmid, senior director of communications for NYC & Company, the company charge in of facilitating the event each year, said that advertising and recruiting restaurants to participate in the event is really the responsibility of the Bronx’s director of Tourism and the Bronx Borough President’s office.
“Due to limited staffing, our community outreach relies heavily on community partners to ensure expanded outreach to the numerous neighborhoods of New York City,” Schmid said. “Therefore for the Bronx, we worked with the Bronx Tourism Council and Bronx Borough President’s Office as well as BIDs and direct outreach to restaurant locations that participated previously in the program.”
Schmid acknowledged that requests to participate were down this time summer with many restaurants citing financial struggles but that the restaurants also “didn’t want to elaborate on why they chose not to participate this year.”
Throughout the pandemic, the Bronx was one of the hardest hit counties, experiencing the most cases and deaths per 100,000 out of NYC’s metropolitan area. According to health data released on Aug. 12, Bronx County totaled 183,027 reported COVID-19 cases and 6,596 COVID-related deaths.
Since the outset of COVID in March 2020, the borough has struggled to recover economically. That coupled with the lowest vaccination rates among the five boroughs, shortage of staffing and rising case counts of the virus due largely to the Delta variant, are some of the reasons why so many Bronx eateries have sat this one out, according to industry officials.
Samuel Lopez, owner of iNine Bistro on Bruckner Boulevard, opted out because it didn’t make economic sense, he said. “Given the circumstances with the pandemic, we are just getting back on our feet and offering specials along with the price of advertisements, that didn’t add up at this time,” Lopez said.
Migliucci-Delfici admitted that finances also played a role in her decision whether to participate this summer.
“I cut down from dinner specials and now we only serve lunch instead,” she said. “We decided to do this, as it was a good way to still participate and get people to try out our options while still saving money.”
For those interested in taking part in the final weekend of dining, patrons can enjoy more than 40 distinct cuisines in 75 neighborhoods throughout NYC with lunches priced at either $21 or $39 and dinners priced at either $21 or $39.
Other restaurants in the Bronx participating are Ice House Café, Addeo’s of the Bronx, Patsy’s Pizzeria, Charles Bar and Kitchen and Boogie Down Grind.
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