By Michael McDowell
“It’s a new normal. The earth turned on a dime. I feel like we’re going into Armageddon,” said Gary Greengrass, proprietor of the eponymous Upper West Side institution, between phone calls.
“We’re here. We’re taking orders. And we’ll be here as long as we can,” he continued. “But we’re losing money even when we’re open.”
Restaurants employ hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers, and from Jewish delis to pizza joints to dim sum parlors to soul food kitchens—front of the house and back of the house—restaurants are one of the places where New Yorkers live their lives.
“I had a woman call in and order four nova sandwiches: cream cheese, tomato, and extra-extra onions. Extra-extra onions,” Greengrass recounted.
“What is that for, I asked her? Social distancing?”
The Rag, momentarily satiated but pasta-inclined, ambled toward Columbus.
“We are trying to survive,” said Guray Yuksel, a managing partner at Bella Luna. “It’s going to be about three months.” Calculators and a stack of papers menaced the end of the empty bar, and only a handful of employees remained—someone in the kitchen, someone for delivery.
Restaurants are expensive to operate, and do so with significant overhead costs. They’re also on the hook for numerous fees, the result of notoriously byzantine city licensing processes. Yuksel pays about $3,000 per month, in installments, for a Sidewalk Cafe License for Bella Luna’s outdoor tables—a fee he hopes the city will waive.
Orders are coming in, he assured. “And we’re delivering wine and beer,” he smiled.
Further uptown, a line stretched down the block and around the corner, for the Trader Joe’s at 92nd and Columbus. Within sight, there was no line at D’Agostino’s. Trader Joe’s is not the only supermarket in the universe, and it is certainly not the only supermarket on the Upper West Side.
Back on Broadway, the Rag spotted a packed Dunkin’—née Donuts. But customers at a Duane Reade were standing at a respectful distance from one another, and an employee was allowing only ten people inside at a time.
Did they have any toilet paper?
“No, but you could try one of the hardware stores. People don’t think about that, but there are other places that have toilet paper.”
When do deliveries arrive?
“Wednesday and Saturday mornings.”
As there’s no reason to count carbohydrates with the apocalypse near, the Rag opted for a slice of pizza, a bagel, or both.
“We’re not doing slices anymore. Online orders for delivery only,” said the man behind the counter at Mama’s TOO!, one of the neighborhood’s choice spots for a slice.
The situation at Absolute Bagel, at 108th and Broadway, was more amenable to the proclivities—immediate gratification among them—of an unapologetic glutton. Discerning regulars know that mini bagels may be found at Absolute.
“I will keep open until we cannot stay open,” said a determined Addi Sabeogan. “People want bagels, and staff want jobs,” she continued. “We will try to do bagels for the people for as long as we can.”
Sabeogan said she has donated bagels to the nurses at Mt. Sinai, thanks to a thoughtful benefactor. “Stay safe,” she said, as the Rag left with a to-go bag.
Coronavirus has come to the neighborhood. It is a bad moment; many of us are anxious, many of us are afraid. But, neighbors and friends, those of us who are able must do our part to keep the restaurants of the Upper West Side open—and the workers who depend on them employed.
Oh, how we’ll miss them if they’re gone.