La Morada, the Mexican restaurant in Mott Haven known for its award-winning tacos, has seen a lag in business since COVID-19 invaded New York City. Now, manager Miguel Saavedra is wondering whether he will have to temporarily close, following Mayor Bill de Blasio’s directive limiting restaurants to take-out and delivery-only.
“We might have to close down for at least a week,” Saavedra said. “I have not gone through the process of cutting staff. We are a small family business.”
The uncertainty looming over La Morada is not uncommon for several businesses around Mott Haven and Hunts Point. On Sunday, the mayor announced that all bars, restaurants and cafes are limited to take-out and delivery, effective March 17 at 9 a.m. On Monday morning, Gov. Andrew Cuomo pushed up the deadline to March 16 at 8 p.m.
The restriction also mandates the closures of casinos, gyms, and movie theaters, and limits crowd capacity to 50 people.
Forcing restaurants to operate through take-out and delivery-only puts a strain on small businesses. Saavedra said running a business with only three employees puts a harsh toll on workers, and keeping the shop open amid struggling sales does not seem plausible.
“We still have to pay for the gas and light bills,” he noted.
Felipe Jimenez, the owner of Jalisco Tacos in Mott Haven, carries a staff of four. Jimenez owned the shop for 23 years and never felt a direct hit on the shop before, but he does expect to serve fewer customers.
“We would see a decrease in revenue, making this a tight month,” Jimenez said. “Us as a business, we would just have to adjust or work around it.”
In Hunts Point, City Tamale is a Mexican establishment known for its sweet, savory tamales. They sell over 2,500 tamales each week and their ingredients are sourced from Mexico.
Managing partner Israel Velice said the economic impact from a mandatory shutdown on the restaurant will be devastating.
“We are taking it day by day but it is not just easy to shut down,” Velice said. “We have people to pay. I do not know if we will be able to recover.”
City Tamale’s plan was to reduce its hours of operation and stick to delivery-only to maintain some form of income. Business is down 70% since the outbreak began, he said.
“Everything is piling up,” Velice said. “It’s different for a business than for individuals.”
Bigger businesses are also taking a hit from the restrictions. Mott Haven Bar and Grill is usually open for business from 11 a.m to 11 p.m, closing at midnight on Wednesdays to Saturdays. Once the restrictions take effect, the restaurant will operate daily from 11 a.m to 8 p.m.
The manager, Yina Santiago, said the restrictions forced the business to lay off workers.
“We had to cut 75% of our staff,” Santiago said. “We can not offer them employment right now.”
Ceetay, a sushi shop in Mott Haven, usually opens for business at 11 a.m and closes at 8 p.m. The shop will now push its openings back an hour.
Anastasia Gincul, a server at the shop, said the restaurant employs five workers per shift. Since the restrictions were announced, there are only three workers per shift, she said.
Third-party delivery apps like Grubhub and UberEats announced they are waiving their delivery fees, a charge paid by customers along with their order, for independently-owned restaurants amid the COVID-19 outbreak.
Food delivery app Seamless said it will waive its commission fees from independent restaurants affected by the dine-in ban. Commission fees typically are charged for restaurants on each order.
These delivery apps are urging customers to select “contact-free delivery” when making purchases to avoid the spread of the virus. After selecting the no contact option, deliveries will be left at the door instead of exchanging hands.