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At restaurants, approaches vary from slow to full speed ahead

At restaurants, approaches vary from slow to full speed ahead

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The state Restaurant Association is pushing for outdoor dining to be allowed in the second phase of New York’s reopening, which could take effect as soon as this weekend.

Local restaurants, meanwhile, are taking a variety of approaches as the pandemic continues. Some have given up on trying to limp by with takeout, closing their doors until conditions improve. Many are relying on a combination of takeout business and a federal loan, while at least one is already serving customers at tables set up outside.

At Steve’s Place in Glens Falls, owner Chris Vamvalis-Haley said she gave up on takeout after about a week because it wasn’t worth it. Now she’s waiting to see how the pandemic plays out and is open to all outcomes, including selling the place.

At 194 Broad St., Steve’s Place stands between a new housing complex, with more than 70 apartments, and Walgreens. It has a large parking lot, and Vamvalis-Haley has thought about moving tables out onto the blacktop, although she worries about customers being too hot.

She is 65, has run the place for decades and said she vacillates between feeling energized about reopening to feeling it’s too much trouble.

Farther west after Broad Street turns into Main Street in Queensbury, another longtime local eatery — Lox of Bagels & Moor — has been holding on with takeout orders and money from a Payroll Protection Program loan, said owner Lena Posniewski.

“We’re the type of restaurant that had a lot of takeout anyway. It’s been slower but we’ve stayed open,” she said.

They cut out the afternoon hours and are now open 6 a.m. to noon every day. Some of their employees, laid off at the start, didn’t return, which may be because of generous unemployment benefits, she said.

Some customers already eat in their cars in the parking lot, or pop their hatchback for a place to sit, and on Wednesday, one couple was sitting at an outdoor table.

“I don’t see me opening the indoor dining. I want to keep my staff as safe as possible,” Posniewski said. “The way my booths are put together, I don’t see people wanting that.”

She’ll look at outdoor seating, as state and local regulations allow, she said, but that involves extra expense.

“Just a picnic table can cost you 6 or 700 bucks and there’s no ambiance to it at all,” she said.

Meanwhile, the restaurant is surviving on a large base of loyal customers.

“I consider myself one of the lucky ones,” she said. “There are so many other restaurants I think about, and I worry for them.”

Seeking solutions

Melissa Fleischut, president and CEO of the New York State Restaurant Association, pointed out that Vermont and Connecticut have opened for outdoor dining, and the association would like New York to do that, too, as soon as this weekend.

Various regions of the state could enter the second phase of reopening at the end of the week, and the association is pushing for outdoor dining to be included.

Now, restaurants are listed in the third reopening phase.

“Some other states have said customer confidence is higher outside. They want to eat outside, especially when the weather is nice,” Fleischut said.

At the Northway Diner, a couple of blocks from Lox of Bagels on Main Street, Queensbury, a few tables have already been set up outside, and a couple of customers were being served there on Wednesday.

Owner Kerrie LeClair said she has seen outdoor dining at other local establishments, and police officers told her it was “perfectly fine to sit outside.”

“We’re just doing the best we can,” LeClair said, adding that her restaurant, too, has been surviving on takeout orders, many from longtime customers.

“I do have a lot of regulars. Some of them never really left. Others are coming back slowly.”

Fleischut said she has heard reports, in some areas, of police or Health Department or Liquor Authority officials shutting down businesses that got ahead of the reopening process.

The association represents about 8,500 establishments statewide, Fleischut said, and she estimated 4 percent or 5 percent of those have shut down permanently during the pandemic.

The federal loans have been helpful but also a challenge because they require business owners to pay most of their staff, at the same time as state rules mandate restaurants remain closed.

“It’s been tricky, especially for New York, because it’s probably going to be one of the last states to open,” she said.

Will Doolittle is projects editor at The Post-Star. He may be reached at will@poststar.com and followed on his blog, I think not, and on Twitter at

@trafficstatic.

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