For more than a week now, North Fork restaurant owners have been forced to make difficult decisions on how to navigate COVID-19 coronavirus.
For a few, that meant closing up shop and heading home for the time being. For others the plan was to stay open and take proactive health and safety measures.
But come Monday, owners of local bars, restaurants and tasting rooms were left with very little choice. They learned through a tweet from Governor Andrew Cuomo that they had to close up or switch to a takeout and delivery model.
The order, which also forces the full closure of gyms and movie theaters, went into effect at 8 p.m. Monday.
“We are taking it day by day, and now it’s hour by hour,” said Love Lane Kitchen owner Carolyn Iannone, who was transitioning from breakfast to lunch when the governor announced his plan. “I want to find a balance between making sure my staff and our customers are safe and also try to be here for the community in some aspect.”
So Iannone said the restaurant is fast at work developing an online ordering system to stay open for to-go orders.
“Obviously it’s a little nerve wracking because it’s unchartered territory,” Iannone said. “We don’t know what to expect. We’ve been through certain ups and downs. You just have to take each situation as it comes and keep communication open.”
Marc LaMaina, owner of Lucharitos in Greenport and Little Lucharitos in Aquebogue, had already been planning out how to improve his restaurants’ take-out service and add delivery across the North Fork when the governor’s decision was announced, but he still said it’s something you can never be ready enough for.
“I know a lot of restaurants and small businesses aren’t prepared for this,” he said. “I don’t know how you can prepare for anything like this.”
One caveat to the governor’s order, which he did in concert with the governors of Connecticut and New Jersey, is that bars, wineries and distilleries will be allowed to sell drinks to go during the mandate.
“People are going to be locked down to their homes and they are going to want to get away really bad,” he said. “A margarita from Lucharitos will help them mentally get there.
The governor said at a press conference Monday he hopes that action by the New York State Liquor Authority “goes a long way toward staving off economic hardship.”
But other local businesses are saying that’s simply not enough.
Ian Wile of Little Creek Oyster Farm and Market in Greenport decided earlier Monday morning that he will have to close for now. He said being a year-round business on the North Fork means a reliance on credit in the winter months and he’s scared for the future of the business community.
“For ourselves, we started working with our debt service providers early last week to get a jump on things,” he said in an email. “We are hopeful we can craft lifelines together that enable sustainability and viability.”
He went on to predict that if Gov. Cuomo’s directive lasts more than eight weeks, it could mean an 80 percent business mortality rate in Greenport. “
“It is important to remember that it will take weeks to restart the engines once an all-clear happens,” he said.
The Preston House in Riverhead announced it is joining the New York City-based campaign Dining Bonds. A collaboration with the PR industry allows guests to “purchase bonds at a value today to be redeemed for full face value in the future,” according to a press release.
“We hope that others in the area will join in when they find out about it,” said spokesperson Helen Patrikis , who helped develop the initiative.
Liz Werkmeister, general manager of aMano in Mattituck, said her restaurant is nervous about the future.
“We are seeing a drop in business, but we also have the mentality that if this was going to happen at any time, this was probably, I hate to say best, but best time for it to happen,” she said.
They had already begun offering a discount on takeout and free delivery on the North Fork.
In a time of social distancing, a truly social experience like Pawpaw, the semiweekly popup restaurant hosted in Bruce and Sons in Greenport might seem like a tough model to continue.
But chef Taylor Knapp is switching to a takeout model and he’s preparing a curbside pickup or delivery menu with a half chicken from Miloski’s in Calverton he hopes will be exciting for folks self isolating in their homes.
“What if you could look forward to a delivered roasted chicken and a couple of bottled Negronis on your Saturday night?” he asked. “It’s cool that they are coming from a local farmer. The farmers need just as much help as the restaurants do, so we are really trying to collaborate with them.”
George Giannaris, longtime chef and owner at Hellenic Snack Bar and Restaurant in East Marion, said despite the setback he believes a two-week quarantine is the right thing to do.
“If we don’t all take action publicly, then how are we going to stop this thing?” he said, adding that the restaurant is doing takeout only. “It is going to be dragged on for months — it’ll kill the economy. I’d rather see a shutdown on the economy for two weeks than a slowdown in the economy for a year.”