“I hope you are in good spirit,” Beatrice Tosti di Valminuta, a co-proprietor of the East Village restaurant and wine bar Il Posto Accanto, told her customers, via a Facebook video last week. “Because whatever it is, being in bad spirit is not going to solve anything.” During past times of bad spirits, Il Posto Accanto had mostly continued operating. The restaurant continued serving in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks and only paused momentarily to let Hurricane Sandy pass; Tosti di Valminuta and her husband, Julio Pena, have otherwise run the operation continuously since 1999.
The coronavirus, as we have all discovered, is another beast entirely. At eight o’clock on Monday, March 16th, all dine-in restaurants, eating establishments, and bars in the state of New York were ordered closed owing to COVID-19, by decree of Governor Andrew Cuomo. The mandated closure came on suddenly, and Il Posto Accanto had no platform to accommodate mobile orders, delivery, or takeout. It was time to improvise. Apps and startups typically take a portion of revenue from each order, sometimes up to thirty per cent. One option, DoorDash, a business that arranges delivery by contractors, had a free trial period the restaurant could take advantage of as a workaround. The owners say that they have seen a tremendous response from their neighborhood, but, even so, revenue from deliveries and pickup will hardly cover costs for even reduced staff, let alone the landlord, sales tax, or the owners themselves.
Four days after the closure, an e-mail landed in my in-box from the purveyors of Grovehouse, a dining collective that includes the powerhouse Italian eateries Lilia and Misi. “When we did the unimaginable, telling the people who mean the most to us that their wellbeing was no longer safe inside of our doors for the foreseeable future, our hearts were broken,” the message said. “Because we knew that their financial security would no longer be assured.” Near the end of the essay was a link to a crowdsourcing request for a quarter million dollars in contributions to support the restaurants’ staff. Seeing the line “Missy Robbins is organizing this fundraiser” had a strange effect. Robbins is a Michelin-star-earning celebrity chef: it was as if Taylor Swift had been forced to turn to subway busking. If the superstars are out of luck, what hope is there for the smaller neighborhood joints?
A quick, socially distant walk around the boroughs shows the damage—blocks of shuttered restaurants, cafés, and bars. They closed in a flash, and it seems reasonable to assume many simply will not open again. “One day at a time,” Tosti di Valminuta suggests. “Today, we’re open and we’re serving food. Tomorrow, Inshallah, hopefully we’re going to be open and serving food. And that’s all we can do, and that’s all we know. And then let’s see what happens, you know? Are we going to be here? We don’t know. We hope so.”
“We want to be here.”