A Hungry Reporter Makes the Rounds on Sunday Night

Gary Greengrass.

By Michael McDowell

Pio Pio? Closed. Café Luxembourg? Closed. Barney Greengrass? Open.

“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.

Addi Sabeogan of Absolute Bagel.

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.

FOOD, NEWS, OPEN/CLOSED | 19 comments | permalink
    1. Connie says:

      Why do you always leave out Mani’s market?? They need more money than the very wealthy owners of Trader Joe’s.

      Where are our city leaders Trying to help these small businesses? There are already too many vacancies on the upper West side.

      • UWSHebrew says:

        I stopped going to Mani’s because of the cashier women. They tend to be rude and routinely overcharge for items, and every time I’ve corrected them on the price and they were found out to be in the wrong, not even the most basic “sorry bout that”. Nothing. Owners are nice, but I don’t need that nonsense.

        • Catherine says:

          UWSHebrew, this is exactly the conversation I’ve been having for two years now with our neighbors. I used to love Mani, but it became clear that the cashiers were deliberately overcharging on the produce. We’d correct them, and they’d look irritated. I began to realize it was deliberate one time when I made a correction, and then needed to get back in line for something I forgot, and while I was in line, watched the woman charge someone else the same inflated price for the same item I had just corrected her on. If the store needs the money, then fine: just list the price higher. Don’t lie to the customers and expect them not to notice. Now I only go to Mani in a pinch. It’s really a shame.

        • Amy G Dala says:

          I’m in Mani almost every day. Most people would say the cashiers are a fine bunch, so it might just be you. The very occasional overcharging is more than compensated by the undercharging.

      • Donald Abrams says:

        Amen! Mani’s is a pillar in the neighbor, independently owned, with fresh veggies and fruit and meats and a full complement of canned goods, nuts and dried fruits. As well as freshly prepared foods and been and dairy. Great cheese selection! They’ve weathered the opening of Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s. Please shop there first!

    2. Mark Moore says:

      I’d rather wait in line at TJ the shop at Dagostinos. It’s a last resort supermarket if everything else closes.

      • chris w says:

        Mark- if you avoid it, then you won’t have any last-resort place to go one day soon. I think having as many options is best for the uws.

    3. BronxBoy says:

      Nice article.

    4. Nickie Palmer says:

      Last night my husband and I got a wonderful 2 course dinner and 2 bottles of wine from the wonderful Italian restaurant Cesca. Prices were GREATLY reduced. Food was delicious! Wine was terrific! (Only $10 a BOTTLE)
      We took it all home and celebrated my birthday!
      Please patronize those local restaurants that are open for takeout as we all struggle to get through this time.

      • Ydoña Payup says:

        Why not just pay full price? Exploiting ‘reduced prices’ during a pandemic is like reverse price-gouging.

      • lynn says:

        Interesting times. I just paid $20 for 2 face masks and latex gloves. The store, which will go unnnamed, wouldn’t let me in without them. Are restaurants taking these same precautions?

        • Christine E says:

          Wow! Please name this store that is charging $20 admission fee. (At least you get mask/glove swag.)

    5. Marci says:

      I saw a guy standing and eating in at the Dunkin Donuts on Broadway between 88th and 89th. They weren’t asking him to leave. A woman standing outside said she didn’t know what to do; should she go in or wait until he left? The guy eating saw us talking and looking at him, and he gave us the finger. He didn’t care, and obviously neither did the Dunkin Donut workers.

    6. Mary says:

      I have noticed price hikes at Westside as well. Not necessarily surprising, but disappointing nonetheless.

    7. SBG says:

      I’d like to add another vote for Mani. Their takeout food is excellent, their quiche the best around.
      I’ve never seen a cashier there be rude.

    8. Barbara Michalak says:

      I love the Mani Market, Taki and Tasso. The clerks are speedy and I don’t need them to love me. I have NEVER gotten an argument over a price error or a returned item. (My husband keeps bringing home radicchio thinking it is red cabbage). Keep the Mani Market alive!

    9. Louisa Cabot says:

      What about Cafe di Soliel?

    10. margo nash says:

      I’ve been going to Mani’s for years and several times a day. It’s kind of my pantry. I can’t say enough good things about them. And I’ve seen the cashiers take all kinds of abuse from some people. And never say a bad word. I’ve had my money returned when gave too much. If I didn’t take enough cash they let me take the food home and come back later with the money. They are so kind and their selections so interesting. Give them a break.

    11. Tracey Grimaldi says:

      Had Oath Pizza today. Ordered or custom pies on the app. Stayed on the sidewalk and the very nice employee handed them to me through the door. Delicious. Please support Oath.