New Yorkers may be reunited with the dining rooms of some of their favorite restaurants once again. As per a decision by Governor Cuomo, indoor dining in New York City has been reinstated starting this Friday, February 12 (moved up from the previously announced February 14 date), at 25% capacity.
Throughout Greenpoint, restaurateurs are reacting to the news and preparing for the big weekend. Mediterranean-influenced restaurant Fandi Mata, which opened during the pandemic, is already taking reservations and getting excited for guests to fully experience Fandi Mata.
“We all just rejoiced … The experience that we want to create, the connection to the food — there’s so much surrounding you in the space. We couldn’t wait to open the doors, it’s been a long time coming,” Doni Digiovanni, Fandi Mata’s director of operations, said.
Beloved neighborhood pizza staple Paulie Gee’s is also embracing the challenge of reopening indoor dining, though with the caveat that the success will depend on how comfortable potential patrons feel.
“My question is: How are other people going to feel?” Paulie Gee’s co-owner Paul Giannone said. “With the 25%, that left me with 18 seats. But lo and behold, other than Friday or Saturday night at primetime, I never filled those 18 seats, because it’s really all about people being willing to come out and get comfortable with indoor dining.”
That being said, Covid-compliance precautions are well underway. Fandi Mata, which opened with 34 seats in their outdoor pergola, hired new team members to account for over 100 new seats that will be added to their expansive dining room.
“We’re onboarding service staff, we’re onboarding back-of-house kitchen staff, we’re integrating them into our schedules, we’re getting them trained, we’re going over Covid compliance training; we’re stocking the restaurant with the inventory we need,” Digiovanni noted.
For Paulie Gee’s, that also means making adjustments at the 60 Greenpoint location, which has housed a pop-up with Jewish diaspora restaurant Edith’s since last October, in order to re-accommodate indoor dining and make use of the space again. Aside from that, Giannone is eager and ready to welcome guests inside again.
“We have all of the contact tracing set up, we have stuff for taking temperatures, we have our plexiglass dividers … I’m excited that our staff can get vaccinated, we want to encourage them to do that, but we would never force them to do that,” Giannone explained. “We want to be able to present everyone with the safest environment for themselves and for our guests.”
Lobster Joint, which reported business being down 60% (according to co-owner Steven Costello) due to the pandemic, is also planning to reopen in accordance with the 25% occupancy ruling on Friday.
“We have added air filtration and comply with all CDC and DOH requirements and recommendations. We serve all our food in a to-go format, so everything is single use, and we have enough sanitizer to disinfect the whole neighborhood,” Costello confirmed.
The quick turnaround does beg the question of whether or not menus will be impacted, but guests hoping to enjoy a sit-down meal of their favorite dishes (or even try something new) can rest assured. Fandi Mata will be serving up their popular brunch service on Saturday and Sunday, along with a special Valentine’s Day menu and in-store partnership with floral vendor Carlo Bermudez of Floresta. Lobster Joint will continue their limited menu of core and fan favorites, plus the special fried-chicken-based menu they debuted this winter.
Along with Paulie Gee’s abbreviated pizza-only menu that they’ve been running throughout the pandemic, Giannone promised that patrons can enjoy “the pizza that we served before, the music that we played before, and the conversation we had before.”
However, not every Greenpoint restaurant is feeling the Valentine’s Day love when it comes to the governor’s announcement. Local brunch and dinner go-to Anella is opting to remain closed for indoor dining, a decision influenced by owner Blair Papagni’s desire to give herself and the restaurant staff a well-deserved break, combined with the less-than-ideal conditions of Cuomo’s reopening strategy.
“I plan on resuming indoor dining in the middle of March, when it is possibly warm enough to utilize the back patio, which would double our seating capacity,” Papagni said. “This pandemic has taught me that all plans should be written in pencil, not pen. Things can change quickly, so while my plan is to return to indoor dining in a month, I’m currently taking a wait-and-see approach. More capacity and a later curfew is what all of my fellow restaurant owners and I need in order to not continue to lose money.”
Regardless of whether businesses choose to seat patrons indoors or not, the common thread they share is the support of the Greenpoint community throughout a turbulent year.
“I can’t speak for other neighborhoods, but I can tell you that being a restaurant owner in Greenpoint, even in the midst of a pandemic, is pretty special. Anella has some of the kindest, most generous patrons that have supported us over the years and it’s really deeply appreciated,” Papagni added.
Similarly, Lobster Joint’s Costello said, “We have been around for close to ten years, and we appreciate all the support from the neighborhood through good and bad times. Now more than ever, it means so much that people allow us the privilege to serve them and keep a few of their neighbors employed.”