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June 25, 2020
How 10 NYC Chefs And Restaurateurs Are Feeling About Reopening
Restaurant owners and chefs in NY tell us how they’re thinking about restaurants reopening.
Written by
Zagat Stories

Our colleagues at Zagat Stories have been speaking to chefs, restaurateurs, bartenders, and food industry professionals in NYC about how they’re feeling in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic and as the city begins to allow businesses to reopen. Read on for excerpts, and head to Zagat Stories for more in-depth, intimate, and personal interviews with people from all over the restaurant industry.

Marcus Samuelsson

Chef & restaurateur, Red Rooster

“Every day I think about reopening, and it will be done in phases. In Miami, we’re probably going to start takeout at the end of June. Same thing here in Harlem. We’re cooking and trying things out. Those restaurants that were great at takeout before COVID-19 are going to do an excellent job at it. A restaurant like Red Rooster—where so much of it is about coming to the place and getting this multi-layered experience between art, music, food and people—we’re really thinking hard about how we can deliver that magic in a box. Will it be a picnic experience? Will it be through a family party? We’re working through that, but it has to be delicious, it has to travel well, and it has to be of value.”

Read the full interview

Juan Correa

Co-owner, Llama Inn and Llama San

“In New York City, every neighborhood is different, and every borough is different. In the West Village, where Llama San operates, you walk around the streets and the city is deserted. I live in a building there with 95 units, and there are 10 units occupied currently because everyone has migrated upstate or to the Hamptons or wherever they decided to go. We are not expecting to see that flow of people come back into the city at least through September. So for us, it’s going to be interesting to see who our customer is, and where our customer is, and how far away they’re willing to get delivery from.”

Read the full interview

Angie Mar

Chef & owner, Beatrice Inn

“Being in the kitchen every day with the few members of my team I can afford to retain, interacting with guests every day when they come and pick up their food—all that has given me a renewed sense of purpose that I haven’t felt in a really long time. It feels really good. It feels like we’re here for employees and our neighborhood. Even if it is a very small difference, it’s a difference. It’s almost like I’ve reconnected with a very basic form of hospitality. I think that’s the only way that I could truly get through it. Through all of this, I realized and remembered why I got into this business.”

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Fabián Von Hauske

Chef & partner, Contra, Wildair, and Contrair

“We’ve been looking at it from different angles. What’s going to happen if people stop spending money? What’s going to happen if people have to wear masks to restaurants, or we have to do a crazy amount of seats? I’d be lying if I told you we have a plan or a solution, but we’re ready to change however we have to change. Our restaurants are always a constant evolution of whatever we are going through in the city. We’ll adapt, and we’ll do whatever we have to do.”

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Gabriel Stulman

Founder & CEO, Happy Cooking Hospitality

“But forget about my opinions as an operator. As a diner with my wife and my kids, if the only way to eat in a restaurant looks like—I show up and the maître d’ digitally scans my temperature at the front door, then determines whether or not I’m allowed to sit. Then I’m sitting, and the next table will be 6 to 10 feet away. Then my waiter comes and hands me a disposable menu and talks to me about the roast chicken addition through a face mask and brings my food with gloves on? I’m sorry, I don’t want to eat in that restaurant. Forget about whether or not I want to run that restaurant. That’s not what dining is about for me. I never opened up restaurants for that kind of experience, and I’m not interested in eating in restaurants with that kind of experience. So, if that’s the only way to open up a restaurant? Cool. Some people might be like, “Oh my God, I just want to get out of my house.” No judgment for that. For me, that’s not an enjoyable dining experience.”

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Michael Lomonaco

Chef, Porter House Bar & Grill, Hudson Yards Grill and the Central Bar at Time Warner Center

“We’ve been developing different versions of scenarios of how the reopening might happen. We’ve been trying to decide what reopening menus would be, compared to a menu six months later, compared to the menus where we were. A reopening menu might be smaller. What dishes do we keep? What changes do we make in preparation? What changes do we make in the menu itself for a smaller staff, not knowing how many guests would arrive? We’ve been doing a lot of brainstorming.”

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Jeff Katz

Partner & general manager, Crown Shy

“Then there are the realities of trying to make our guests feel comfortable when they come into the restaurant. We would usually set a table before you get there. But is my team seating you, the host team—are they going to walk you to the table and wipe the table down, disinfect the table in your presence so that you’re comfortable sitting there? These are the kinds of things we have to think about. We would not normally wrap our silverware. We’re not a hospital. But are we going to wrap our silverware so you feel better about using it? We know the virus lives on surfaces. Are we going to be wearing masks? Are we going to be wearing gloves? Are you going to pick up your own food at the pass, instead of having someone bring it to you, to minimize contact? There’s a lot of crazy stuff that I would now have to consider a possibility.”

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Yann de Rochefort

Founder & CEO Boqueria

“In terms of eventually reopening and coming back, if people feel safe being in the company of other people, we’ll be fine. If they don’t, we’re screwed. There are tons of things all of us can do—delivery, catering, et cetera. But none of our restaurants are built for that. You don’t need to pay the kinds of rents that we and others in the industry are paying in order to do delivery. Most of the restaurant industry needs people in the restaurants that they’ve built, eating. There’s only so much that any of us can do to make people feel safe if mass testing, contact tracing, selective quarantining, and other measures of public health aren’t in place.”

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David Bouley

Chef, Bouley

“The restaurant business is kind of like bacteria. It will survive. But it’s going to have to reinvent itself. It takes a lot of energy to just cover costs. How much can you charge the consumer? It’s very competitive now because it’s so much home delivery and all these different things—making meals at home, augmenting meals at home. How much more could it cost to go to a restaurant?”

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Maria di Rende

Owner, Enzo’s

“I think restaurants are all in the same boat, and I hope that once this is over with, people will be a little bit more extra-supportive. I’ve had people that have come in to take out, and let’s just say their bill is $20, and they’ll leave a $20 tip for whoever was there taking care of putting in that order for them. Everyone is going to be in financial crisis, but I think if everyone could start supporting each other that way, that would be great. Because I know restaurants are taking a really, really big hit.”

Read the full interview

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