New York City restaurants reopened indoor dining at 25% capacity on Wednesday, welcoming patrons hungry for food and company in the pandemic with tight safety measures in candle-lit rooms and behind kitchen doors.
At Il Gattopardo, an upscale Southern-Italian restaurant on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, owner Gianfranco Sorrentino said extreme health precautions were essential to pull his eatery through one of his toughest times in the business in 30 years.
“We change the mask every 15, 20 minutes,” Sorrentino said of the waiters serving diners who were sipping red wine at white-cloth covered tables.
“Everybody has to wash their hands every 15, 20 minutes. We change the filter of the air conditioning. They are special filters so the circulation of the air is done in a different way.”
Customers smiled across tables that had been unoccupied since a lockdown was ordered in March in New York, once the U.S. epicenter of the deadly coronavirus.
It was a day to remember.
“I’ll never forget September 30th. It was the first day we returned to socializing. It’s wonderful,” said Lisa Sasson, a New York City resident seated with about a half dozen other luncheon guests at the restaurant’s renovated Manhattan townhouse with a garden.
“It’s fantastic to be with people, to actually have an enjoyable meal with friends and family and acquaintances and fellow workers,” said Reid Rosen, an attorney seated at the table.
Reviving the city after more than six months of quarantine is the duty of all New Yorkers, Sorrentino said. “Everyone has to take his own share of responsibility because we have to rebuild New York.”
“Let’s go out,” he said. “Let’s buy a coffee one day here and one day in another place. Let’s go out to lunch. Let’s buy a T-shirt. Let’s buy hankies. Let’s give this city what it’s all about.”
When the shutdown was ordered in March, he assumed it would last only two weeks.
“Financially, it’s been a disaster,” said Sorrentino, who was forced to furlough 155 workers, although he managed to maintain the staff’s health insurance.
By the time take-out orders and outdoor dining were allowed in August, some workers had taken other jobs and some had returned to their native countries. With only 92 of the 155 employees coming back to work, Sorrentino is being forced to rebuild, he said.
“We have to do it. We are here. We are going to stay here. And we’re going to see this city coming back with all the splendor that used to be,” he said.