Unseasonably mild temperatures last week allowed local restaurants to take advantage of outdoor seating, but with winter weather looming, owners are bracing for the challenge of watching their new business model under the pandemic disappear until next spring.
“We had a perfect summer where we were able to utilize a multitude of tables for outdoor seating,” said EGP Land and Sea owner Tim O’Hagan, who noted that the restaurant, on Pettit Place in Island Park, features seating for 50 outdoors and 72 indoors. “We’ve seen the numbers drop off, and it’s certainly going to hurt business moving forward,” he said. “The weather was great this week, but prior to that, nobody sat outside for weeks.”
O’Hagan, who employs 30 full- or part-timers, said he has had to lay off a portion of his kitchen staff over the past few months. He added that he hoped the addition of outdoor dining “igloos,” which are heated and seat up to 10 on couches and are available to rent for two hours, will keep some outdoor revenue coming.
“It’s a scary time for all of us restaurateurs,” O’Hagan said. “I hope I’m wrong, but I’m worried the worst has yet to come.”
At J. Paul’s Terrace Café, a restaurant and sports bar at 239 Merrick Road in Oceanside, owner Joe Bonin said losing four tables for outdoor seating when the weather sours starting in a few weeks will not dramatically hurt business, but “everything helps.”
J. Paul’s never closed during the pandemic. It shifted gears to takeout from March 16 through June 23. “We’re doing a lot more takeout and curbside pickup than ever before,” Bonin said. “What hurts is being limited to 60 customers indoors instead of 120. It’s our busy season with football on the weekends, and we’ve had to turn some people away.
“People just can’t hang around the bar area and wait for a table anymore because of social distancing,” he added. “We’ve been compliant with all the guidelines, and we’ll roll with the punches until things get better.”
J. Paul’s features a dining room area and a newly remodeled sports bar area with 14 flat-screen TVs, as well as an off-track betting horse wagering system, available to all customers daily.
Artie’s South Shore Fish Market & Grill, a fixture in Island Park since 1974, is under new ownership and on the cusp of opening the restaurant portion of the business on Nov. 20.
Scott and Arthur Horak purchased the business, at 4257 Austin Blvd., in April from the family of longtime owner Artie Hoerning, who died in 2017. Following months of renovation work, the fish market enjoyed a busy opening Nov. 5.
Unlike many restaurants, the weather conditions will not hinder outdoor dining at Artie’s since it is enclosed. Horak said the eatery is having electric heaters installed in that area, which will seat a maximum of 20 to match the capacity permitted indoors under Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s 50 percent guideline issued in early June.
“It still has the feeling of the old Artie’s,” Arthur Horak said. “The first day we opened the fish market, we had people knocking on the door all day asking when the restaurant would open, so we’re looking forward to it.”