Valley Stream restaurants and bars are feeling the effects of the new wave of Covid-19 cases caused by the highly contagious Omicron variant. From supply-chain shortages to declines in the inflow of dine-in customers to having to adapt to the constantly changing mask mandates and social distancing rules, these businesses have their hands full.
“The past few weeks have been a lot slower,” said Valley Stream native Michael Labeck, owner of bar & grill Charlie Meaney’s. “Almost all of our food orders have been to-go. At first, we thought maybe it was because of the holidays, but we’re seeing now that it’s definitely a part of the pandemic.”
Labeck said that this is a major setback for his business because January is usually one of his busiest months.
“January is our bread-and-butter season,” he said, “because of football and the Super Bowl coming up . . . It’s always a really big time of year, but unfortunately I think this month is going to be rough.”
Labeck added that one of the biggest challenges that his business faces is pandemic-induced supply-chain shortages. “Our biggest concern is the supply-chain shortages and the huge increase in the prices of food,” he said. “I haven’t been able to get a lot of things on our menu from supply stores. There’s much less of what we need, and it’s much more expensive when we do acquire things.”
Labeck explained some of the price increases that are affecting his eatery most.
“The price tag is a little bit sticker-shocking when it comes to some of the basic things we serve,” he said. “For example, we’re known
or our wings. Before the pandemic started, chicken wings were $2.25 a pound. Now, they are $4.40 a pound. But we can’t raise our prices too much because we are a local neighborhood bar and people won’t want to come here anymore if they’re being overcharged.”
Owner of La Perla De Oriente Restaurant & Bar on Merrick Road, Santos Gutierrez, of Rosedale, also commented on the financial challenges that his business has faced over the past nearly two years because of the pandemic.
“I just hope that this year is a better year,” he said, “because we have been struggling and it hasn’t been easy for our business . . . I’ve had to cut employees, and even though I applied for the [Paycheck Protection Program] federal loan, it didn’t give us much.”
Another situation that is affecting neighborhood restaurants is the mask requirement.
While Gov. Kathy Hochul issued a mandate Dec. 13 requiring masks to be worn in all indoor public places, new Nassau County Executive Bruce Blakeman, who was sworn in Jan. 3, said he would not enforce the state’s mask mandate or require proof of vaccination in the county.
“It does make it easier for us to run our business,” Labeck said of Blakeman’s policies, “but public health-wise, it could be a cause for concern.”
Toni Clifton, a Valley Stream native and a co-owner of Pretty Toni’s Cafe, on Merrick Road, said that despite Nassau County’s change in mask requirements, she would err on the side of caution and still require masks to be worn at her restaurant.
“We are just reopening our dine-in section this week for the first time since March 2020,” said Clifton, “which we have been apprehensive about because of the rising number of cases. We’re requiring all customers and employees to wear masks, and we’re making sure to have our tables six feet apart. We also have signs encouraging customers to maintain social distance.”
Toni and her Pretty Toni’s co-owner, Gary Clifton, added that they wished there was a more definitive protocol on what to do in terms of masks, vaccines and social distancing in Nassau County.
“We’re running a fine line between having to run our business but also be our own police,” Gary Clifton said.
Despite the challenging circumstances, the owners of the three restaurants said they remained optimistic that the number of Covid cases would fall and things would get easier for their businesses in the new year.