Local Restaurant Owners Try to Help Laid-Off Workers; Here’s How You Can Donate

A Danny Meyer spot.

By Carol Tannenhauser

Restaurant owners are laying off employees in droves now that bars and restaurants are closed to sit-down drinking and dining. Takeout and deliveries continue in some cases, but what happens to the in-house staff, the servers, cooks, bussers, bartenders, dishwashers, porters and other low-wage workers who must ride out the pandemic without paychecks? How will they cover the rent and feed their families? Some restaurant owners are stepping up to help.

Danny Meyer, founder of the Union Square Hospitality Group (USHG), which owns more than 20 restaurants in the city, including Shake Shake, on Columbus and 77th, and the popular new cafe, Daily Provisions, on 78th and Amsterdam, announced that he is ”forgoing all of his compensation and donating it to a relief fund for all USHG employees,” according to Eater. ”Any revenue from purchases of USHG gift cards now through March 24 will also be donated to the relief fund.” In addition, Meyers will pay for former employees health insurance through mid April, the NY Post reported. And all are urged to reapply for work when the restaurants reopen.

The Mermaid Inn, prior to the social distancing era.

Until then, other owners are trying to put cash in their hands by starting GoFundMe fundraising drives for laid-off employees. Partners Danny Abrams and Cindy Smith, who own The Mermaid Inn, on 87th Street and Amsterdam, and Pizzeria Sirenetta, right next door, as well as two places downtown, had, as of this writing, raised over $18,000 of their $100,000 goal in just one day. They had first carefully checked out how GoFundMe works.

“Our research into the acceptance and distribution of the GoFundMe project funds for our valued Mermaid Inn company employees has shown us that the funds would be distributed into one of our Mermaid Inn bank accounts,” Smith explained. “Upon completion of the fundraising we would do an equitable distribution to each of our employees. 100% of the funds would go to employees with full disclosure available to anyone interested in the distribution.”

Here is the link for the Mermaid Inn employees GoFundMe account.

Il Violino closed on Saturday night at 9:30 PM. Photo by Karen Shapiro.

Carmen Ortiz, General Manager of Il Violino, on Columbus Avenue, between 68th and 69th Streets, sent in the link to that restaurant’s GoFundMe account. “Closing our doors was the most difficult decisions we’ve had to make during this COVID-19 crisis,” she wrote. “Laying off 25+ employees was absolutely heartbreaking. Our Il Violino family is left without any income and the uncertainty of when they will be employed again. Unemployment benefits are very minimal. Please help us support them with disaster relief while we are closed. 100% of donations will be going to the entire hard working staff; servers, dishwashers, cooks, bartenders, the whole crew. Thank you from the bottom of our hearts.”

Here is the Il Violino GoFundMe link.

The Restaurant Group, owners of Harvest Kitchen, AG Kitchen,  Good Enough to Eat, and Brad’s Burgers, has also set up a GoFundMe for employees, and are doing to-go orders.

“We are now selling gift certificates that may be purchased for use now or at a later date. The full bar is open for takeout and delivery, including an all day happy hour. We have also reopened, AG Kitchen, the beloved Latin American restaurant.

It is better for us if you call the restaurants directly, rather than ordering through an app, as it saves you money, and helps us avoid charges of up to 50%. Anyone interested in placing an order or purchasing a gift certificate can simply call Good Enough to Eat (212) 496-0163, Brad’s Burgers (212) 787-3473, or Harvest Kitchen & AG Kitchen (646) 870-0810.”

Finally, Piccolo Cafe (313 Amsterdam) and Lucciolo (621 Amsterdam) made the following plea: “We moved from Italy to NYC in 2009 following an idea and all our dreams. We started selling pasta, panini, espresso and cappuccino on the street to the point that we were able to open 5 locations and grow a great team made of amazing people and dreamers…now it seems our dreams and family is reaching an end. I know we can win this, please help us, please help all our workers and team! LOVE YOU ALL! See you soon back on our feet!”

Here is the link for the Piccolo and Lucciolo GoFundMe.

We’ll keep posting if more come in. And don’t forget about the gift certificate idea for all of your favorite spots. Call or email them for information.

FOOD, NEWS, OPEN/CLOSED | 30 comments | permalink
    1. dc says:

      Thanks for sharing this. If all of us donate even a few dollars, it will help.

    2. jem says:

      Alice’s Tea Cup is offering gift cards.

    3. UWSDrew says:

      I have been ordering food from my favorite places like Senn and Spice and tipping 50%.

    4. Yay. AG Kitchen. Will definitely take-out! Also, Santa Fe has great take-out and delivery.

    5. Jon says:

      I am heartened by the creative approaches that restaurants and other businesses have taken in these uncertain times, and encoiraged by the community response. As dc says, even a little money helps. And it would certainly be less than patronizing these places on an ordinary night!

    6. SB says:

      This is really lovely, and I hope that these chefs, restaurateurs and small business owners, and their employees, get all of the support that they deserve.

      But I have an issue with the Union Square Hospitality Group situation.

      USHG laying off most of it’s workforce is disgraceful. Danny Meyers is supposedly worth upwards of $400 million, so while it’s nice that he’s temporarily not taking a salary, I wonder if there’s more that he could personally do to help the people that he hired weather these uncertain times. The fact that they immediately laid off more than 2,000 people–and USHG announced layoffs early this week, they didn’t even try to make it work–rather than furlough employees or temporarily decrease salaries, shows a total lack of empathy and and heart on the part of their leadership team.

      And to add insult to injury, the employees who were laid off are ” urged to reapply for work when the restaurants reopen.” Excuse me, what? If these talented restaurant employees are good enough to work for USHG not once but potentially twice, why are they not good enough to keep their jobs if it means that the corporate office taking a bit of a hit? Maybe they should take their talent elsewhere, to places that will support and respect them, give them job security, and not ditch them at the first sign of trouble.

      I’m just going to leave this quote (from a WSJ article about Danny Meyer’s investment fund and currently featured on the Union Square Hospitality Group’s website) here:

      “Enlightened Hospitality Investments LP (EHI) “New York restaurateur and Shake Shack founder Danny Meyer has gone into the private-equity business, raising $220 million in a fund that is investing in companies that share his employee-centric focus.”

      Yeah, “employee-centric focus.” Good one.

    7. Carlos says:

      I appreciate Danny Meyer’s efforts but I think part of this is in response to a feature about him in the Times saying that he was laying 80% of his staff off immediately “so they can start collecting unemployment”, and he got absolutely ripped in the comments section.

    8. UWSgirl says:

      Smoke – the iconic jazz club on 106 and Broadway – has gift cards available as well. They’re an institution in the neighborhood and very sadly are boarded up now.

    9. AES says:

      Please add the GoFundMe for Plowshares Coffee! They closed the shops but are continuing mail order sale of beans. https://www.gofundme.com/f/help-plowshares-coffee-through-covid19?utm_medium=copy_link&utm_source=customer&utm_campaign=p_lico+share-sheet

    10. Good Enough to Eat, Harvest Kitchen and Brad’s Burgers have also started a GoFundMe for their most vulnerable enployees.

    11. Jean Luke says:

      Danny Meyer can afford to personally help out his employees from the fortune he has made from Shake Shack and his other restaurants. He also hurt Wait Staff greatly when he eliminated tipping from his restaurants. His comments that his employees are: ” urged to reapply for work when the restaurants reopen.” seems heartless. Aren’t the employees guaranteed a job that they had when he reopens?

      • restaurantworker says:

        Employees move around to different jobs within the USHG family of business segments. It’s actually encouraged to keep everyone happy, motivated, and upwardly mobile as new opportunities are available.

        It’s pretty certain that not all USHG business segments will reopen and come up to full speed at the same pace. Some might never reopen. So if there are senior employees at any of those disadvantaged locations that the company would like to retain, they are giving them a chance to apply for a job that wa previously held by another employee at another business. They’re recognizing that some employees have seniority and should be rewarded. Obviously, someone else takes the hit and that’s going to be either a less senior or less experienced co-worker. There’s no justification for anyone holding onto their job simply because they had it before.

      • Tag Gross says:

        Shake Shack is a separate company. Surely USHG should stand on it’s own.

    12. Jane W says:

      What’s outrageous is that the wait staff not only lose their wages but likely weren’t earning the minimum wage when they were working. How the hell is that legal?

      • Woody says:

        They were likely earning significantly more than the minimum wage with tips. Let’s stop with these non-credible comments.

        • Leon says:

          True, but I think unemployment is based on your taxable income so those who earned a very small taxable salary and most of their income through tips will not qualify for very much unemployment. The unemployment weekly max in NY is very low (I believe it was just increased from $450 to $500) but they might not even get anywhere near this.

          • Woody says:

            Sorry, but I can’t sympathize with people who evaded income taxes by shoving cash tips in their pockets while most people paid the appropriate amount of income taxes. They should have realized the potential consequences when they decided to not declare the income. All the tax money they saved and didn’t contribute to City & State coffers should be their cushion now.

            • Leon says:

              Fair point. I don’t know much about how this works. Do they get taxed on credit card tips? I assume most waitstaff do not pay taxes on cash tips?

          • Woody says:

            Just to clarify, I’m riffing off your assumption that the restaurant workers didn’t include their tips in their reported income. You can’t distinguish between their ‘small’ salary and tips – they’re both taxable sources of income.

      • Carnival Canticle says:

        Documentation, please, for the assertion that they were making less than minimum wage.

    13. jem says:

      Arte on 73rd is still doing takeout and delivery

    14. FANG-RU CHANG says:

      NY State of Health has opened a Special Enrollment Period through April 15 for uninsured individuals in light of the COVID-19 public health emergency.


    15. Marion says:

      I am absolutely amazed at the effort so many restaurants in our neighborhood are making to keep the doors open. Pappardella is also serving delivery and pick up, to keep the staff going, to nourish the regular guests that keep calling and to keep the spirits up, at a safe distance. Thank you for that.

    16. DrM says:

      Say what you will about restaurants owned by millionaires. Their owners are not our concern. BUT their staff is no different than the staff of independent, family owned restaurants. They work hard and need their jobs. I think the best way to boost this situation is, 1 – On those nights when you usually would have gone out to eat, order in! 2 – Take 5 fu*’ing minutes, research your local independent faves and order from them. 3 – Order all of what you would have ordered if eating in. Including drinks! That’s allowed now! How fun is that???! 4 – Tip your delivery person 20% of the total, just as you normally would have on site, instead of 2 bucks because you didn’t receive table service. Alternatively, skip dinner altogether, put your ass on a bicycle and give food to other people.

    17. Kate says:

      West side campaign against hunger is a long established source of groceries for those in need. Itis a non profit. Donate to help those in need from all boroughs.

    18. Alexandria Meier says:

      Cilantro on Columbus between 83rd and 84th is open and taking delivery or carry out orders!

      They are scheduling workers 2-3 days a week to try and take care of employees. Any orders help!

    19. John Bishop says:

      Saw today that the Laundromat on 71st Street will be closing today too. Not just restaurants.