Restaurant business

Two years later, how COVID has changed the restaurant business in Staten Island

STATEN ISLAND, NY – Two years after the pandemic closings, restaurants on Staten Island are back.

In a post-Mother’s Day survey of 20 borough landlords, we asked each to offer a perspective on what it’s like to do business right now. They report that customers have enthusiastically returned to the dining rooms. But there are caveats that come with such sunny sightings this spring.

Vincent Malerba wowed the crowds last weekend at Angelina’s Ristorante in Tottenville and its sister locations, Flour & Oak of Tompkinsville and Angelina’s Kitchen at the Staten Island Mall.

Flour & Oak in Tompkinsville has had good business this spring as Cinco de Mayo and Mother’s Day festivities return in full force. (Staten Island Advance/Pamela Silvestri)Pamela Silvestri

“We had an amazing turnout on Mother’s Day and we’re doing well with parties. This week alone we have 22 events. So people are definitely coming out. We are grateful – and relieved,” Malerba said.

On the other hand, there is the cost of goods. Diesel is so expensive that the massive tent on the Tottenville property needed around $800 for its generator-powered heat – just on Mother’s Day. When it comes to exorbitant fuel costs and its impact on restaurant owners, New York’s record gasoline prices have been passed on to owners with additional surcharges on bill totals or more expensive products. Additionally, staples like mozzarella cheese and various cooking oils have fluctuated significantly over the past few months.

“Prices are through the roof. We can not do anything. I compare it to day trading. . . our menu prices need to be changed daily,” Malerba said.

VINUM cocktails to go

VINUM’s pre-portioned cocktails for home tastings during the pandemic. (Courtesy of Massimo Felici)Massimo Felici

EAT LOSSES

Other owners echoed a similar sentiment on thinner margins, although a handful of chiefs admitted they were eating losses.

Chef Massimo Felici said: “Unfortunately we can’t adjust our menus to rise in price, because then people won’t go out anymore or as much.”

Felici owns VINUM and The Richmond, both Stapleton, Casa Belvedere on Grymes Hill and Don Cheech, opened this week in Rosebank. He sympathizes with customers affected by inflation and shortages in their own homes. Resigned to the situation, he said: “I don’t think prices will ever go down to where they were or where they should be.”

In Felici’s eyes, the food industry today suffers from a shortage of experienced and serious workers.

“The workforce has deteriorated. It’s just not there at all. Young men these days are just collecting, sitting on a couch, smoking a bong and playing Xbox while eating cold pizza,” he joked.

Felici said: “The one positive thing that I think has come out of the pandemic is that it has forced us to adapt and become even more resilient than we have ever been. We have adapted to become chameleons in order to survive.

Indeed, Staten Island restaurants have been doing just that since March 16, 2020, when restrictions on restaurants were at their most extreme in the Big Apple. Amid the pandemic quarantine, for example, Felici himself made headlines when his Michelin-rated restaurant switched to selling toilet paper, cleaning products and other miscellaneous items alongside the alcohol and prepared Italian cuisine. It went full throttle in a “virtual restaurant” scheme and sold tasting packages with a selection of portioned wines dropped off at attendees’ doors.

In another reminder of the restaurateur’s inventive mindset at a time when indoor dining was illegal for more than six months: Ruddy and Dean’s Danny Mills turned his North Shore Steakhouse into a meat market with delivery all over the island. He sold steaks and fish for the cook’s backyard gathering. Like other establishments, Reggiano’s in Tottenville offered a similar convenience format from its inventories to draw neighbors away from crowded grocery stores.

Stapleton

Amira Cintron owns Amira’s Bistro in Stapleton, which has expanded its Puerto Rican and Latin cuisine to include chefs specializing in regional Caribbean cuisine. (Staten Island Advance/Pamela Silvestri)Pamela Silvestri

FLEXIBLE WITH CREATIVE FREEDOM

The importance of flexibility resonates with Amira Cintron of Amira’s Bistro. She left her job as sous chef with Wolfgang Puck to pursue her Puerto Rican-themed restaurant, established in the heart of Stapleton in August 2020. Starting this weekend, she will extend hours to 9 p.m., dipping into the dinners served on Thursday, Friday and Saturday from the hands of various pop-up chefs.

She said: “It gives us the advantage of staying open later. The menu changes to keep food fresh and seasonal with the produce we source. As commodity prices rise and [shortages persist] it was difficult to find and maintain a consistent menu.

Mofongo

Mofongo balls stuffed with cheese and pork at Amira’s Bistro in Stapleton. (Courtesy of Amira Cintron)

“It also gives us the opportunity to expand into other cuisines,” she said. “We are still a Latin and Caribbean fusion.” His next presenting guest, Chef Zizzi, is a Trinidad-based expert who showcases Trinidadian cuisine. The weekend guest chef program will expand further in June if it’s successful, Cintron said.

Making pizza at Palermo’s in Richmond Valley. (Staten Island Advance/Pamela Silvestri)(Staten Island Advance/Pamela Si

COVID ‘THE BEST THING TO HAPPEN’ AT BIZ

Sal Finocchiaro of Palermo Pizzeria in the Richmond Valley said, “The pandemic has been the best thing that has happened to the restaurant business.

An accountant by trade, Finocchiaro said: “I saw my [restaurant] customers double their sales. If they offered takeout, curbside pickup, and contactless delivery, they did just fine. Of course, we have those groups who preferred to dine outdoors and, those who were more daring, dined indoors – and the restaurants offered both. They literally doubled their restore capacity in some cases. Most of my clients have done this and had great success. Those who failed gave up too quickly!

He recalled, “Let’s not forget the SBA and PPP loans. These loans have allowed restaurants to purchase new equipment and furniture, hire new employees, expand their current locations, and even pay off back taxes. The pandemic has changed business for the better!

Pictures of 2020

A now-closed Trattoria Romana in Dongan Hills showed its capabilities for its two dining rooms during the pandemic in fall 2020. The sign illustrates the impact of COVID restrictions imposed on the owner’s ability to maximize sales with less seats and therefore much less sales. (Staten Island Advance/Pamela Silvestri)Staten Island Advance

But COVID has completely changed the flow of meals, according to Princes Bay accountant John D’Angelo. He spoke on the subject as a frequent traveler to fine dining restaurants as well as an entrepreneur familiar with how small businesses work.

He noted, “Staten Island is a unique place where most people like to go out for dinner as their main source of entertainment. They don’t expect quality food, but they expect bigger portions and they expect great service. Now, two years later, prices have skyrocketed and service has gone in the opposite direction. »

D’Angelo also sees how kitchens work to fulfill third-party pick-up service orders, resulting in a wait for those dining in person. And now, perhaps to make up for lost time during the pandemic, he’s seeing more tables stuck in the dining rooms of top restaurants.

“Lately you feel more and more compressed,” he noted.

As a patron, he also finds himself paying more for a product with which he is not always satisfied. With a shortage of staff, that could mean delays in the kitchen and, in his experience since indoor dining returned, cold food.

“It becomes a major problem and it goes down the chain,” he argued.

Cinco de Mayo 2022

What Sofia’s Taqueria in Eltingville looked like on Thursday, May 5, 2022 when it welcomed over 2,500 guests into its parking lot. (Staten Island Advance/Shane DiMaio)

CAUTIOUS OPTIMISM

NYC Hospitality Alliance director Andrew Rigie said restaurateurs he’s spoken to across the city say sales are 70 to 90 percent of what they were before the pandemic.

“So there is cautious optimism as warmer weather approaches. Although we are in much better shape than a year ago, the road to recovery is still long due to debt, inflation and skyrocketing labor costs, among other challenges,” Rigie said.

He concluded: “Many private events are coming back, but some clients are reluctant to book events too far into the future. One thing we have learned about the pandemic is that the only thing that is certain is that everything is uncertain. »

Pamela Silvestri is editor-in-chief of Advance Food. She can be reached at [email protected].