With summer weather approaching and business returning to normal as the coronavirus pandemic wanes, Lynbrook and East Rockaway officials have given the green light to bringing back outdoor dining.
Bryant Postell, the owner of Prime 39 in Lynbrook, said he was “so excited” to welcome patrons back outside.
“We plan to participate in outdoor dining, and it would absolutely help us,” he said. “With the weather warming up and the ability to dine outdoors, I believe we will see an uptick in the number of guests who are willing to dine because they can do so outdoors.”
At the May 17 village board meeting, Lynbrook Mayor Alan Beach and trustees announced they would again close Atlantic Avenue to allow outdoor dining for restaurant patrons from 6 to 10 p.m. on weekends. East Rockaway businesses will also be permitted to offer outside dining.
Postell said he was eager to do so, especially because Prime 39, at 39 Atlantic Ave., overcame many obstacles to open.
In November 2018, Postell signed a lease for the property, which was previously a retail store called Popcorn Buddha. He had to acquire the necessary permits and approvals to build out, operate and convert the kitchen from electric to gas.
Around that time, however, National Grid instituted a gas moratorium after it reached an impasse with the state Department of Environmental Conservation and New York and New Jersey elected officials over a $1 billion, 24-mile gas supply pipeline. At the time, some 2,400 applications for new gas hookups were denied on Long Island, including Postell’s.
Postell also had to install a new fire alarm system, according to county code.
By the time the issues were resolved, the coronavirus pandemic was spreading rapidly across the U.S. last spring, and Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced that restaurants could only offer takeout service, before he eventually permitted outdoor dining and then indoor dining with limited capacity.
Despite the struggles, Postell said his business is thriving, weekend reservations are usually sold out a week in advance, and he recently instituted a Sunday brunch. He added that he is happy that he could extend business hours under new state guidelines, and that he looked forward to hosting outdoor diners.
Postell also noted that while there have been many changes in the state’s mask-wearing policy, his business has continued to require masks when walking through the restaurant’s interior, but diners can remove their facial coverings once seated. Additionally, his staff is still required to wear masks, and customers and employees must have their temperatures checked and maintain social distancing. Partitions are also still in place between tables.
Dominic Natoli, the owner of Il Pozzo Wine Bar & Kitchen, at 46 Atlantic Ave., said he looked forward to offering patrons outdoor dining again after it was successful last year.
“I believe that last year if we did not have outdoor dining, we surely would’ve had to close our doors,” he said. “I think our patrons enjoyed outdoor dining greatly, and I also think that it brought a camaraderie between the community and businesses. I’m looking forward to participating in the outdoor dining plan for this summer.”
Natoli said his business was only open for seven months before the pandemic hit, and it caused a great strain on him. He added that he had to cut staff, and morale was low when he reopened last June, but things have taken a turn for the better. He said he anticipated easing some mask-wearing restrictions following new Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines. Outdoor dining will enable Il Pozzo to offer 40 more seats to patrons, including private gazebos that can be reserved for a small charge.
Beach and the board approved outdoor dining to help restaurants that are still struggling after months of losing business at the height of the pandemic. “As long as they properly social distance the tables, they’re able to do outdoor dining,” Beach said at the May 17 meeting.
East Rockaway Mayor Bruno Romano said he and the village board have also permitted businesses to begin outdoor dining again, as long as restaurants stick with village code.
“Unfortunately, the food industry has taken a tremendous loss due to the pandemic,” he said. “Therefore, we need to help them so they are able to [overcome] the financial loss which they were confronted with last year and to date this year. Many of the food establishments asked us during the pandemic if they were able to place seating outdoors, and we approved it . . . Many people enjoy eating their meals outdoors, especially now that the weather is becoming nice.”