Community and Business

Long Island Jewish Valley Stream hospital launches restaurant recovery

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The coronavirus pandemic disrupted the operational status quo of many businesses, but few have been as severely hit as the restaurant industry. While dine-in restrictions have been lifted and people are starting to eat out again, recovering restaurants are dogged by a new set of challenges, including inflated food prices and staff and supply shortages. In the steep climb out of an eighteen-month economic slowdown, government help has been limited locally.
Only 12 percent of Long Island’s restaurants and dining establishments secured federal grants from the Restaurant Revitalization Fund. But the pandemic has opened new avenues for generosity and community-centered responses that have proven critical in reeling businesses back from the brink of bankruptcy. That is the heart of the Small Business Rescue Initiative at the Long Island Jewish Valley Stream hospital, a Northwell Health institution.
Four hundred thousand dollars in in-house food and catering services will instead be allocated to pay struggling restaurants on Long Island and Queens to prepare food for the hospital’s staff and catering events. The list spans eateries from Lynbrook and Elmont to Franklin Square and Valley Stream.
“It ironically started during a budget process” when after crunching the budgetary numbers, the question arose, “‘Why are we spending so much money on [food and catering services] when we can take that money and transplant that to our local community?’” said Chris O’Brien, associate executive director of finance, who saw an opportunity to help struggling restaurants recovering from the restrictions imposed on them because of Covid-19.
The initiative, O’Brien also found, would take a “tremendous burden” off the hospital kitchen staff and free them up to dedicate their full time and attention to the patient service experience and in-room patient dining.

“The LIJ hospital was in the epicenter of the epicenter of the pandemic. Every day was uncertain despair, but the one thing that was constant was the unwavering support of the community,” said O’Brien, who added that it was time for the hospital to pay that support forward and find ways to repurpose dollars back into the local economy.
According to Dr. Chidubem Iloabachie, associate chair of emergency medicine, the process took several months, as members from the hospital’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Committee scouted a variety of restaurants with distinct cultural cuisines to match the diversity of the hospital staff and learn about the individual stories of the businesses. Out of more than 40 candidates, 10 were chosen.
One of the partnership grants has gone to the father-son duo of Jaime Parra and Luis Payano, the restaurateurs behind L.I. Valle Grill, a family-run restaurant originally based in the Bronx, which planted new roots in Franklin Square in June. The duo took the reins from the owners of the Latino restaurant Higuei, which for years was a fixture in the neighborhood. In honor of them, Parra and Payano have kept much of the same service staff and Latino-based menu items, yet have opened their doors under very different circumstances.
“It’s been a little rough. In the beginning, we were a little nervous about jumping into this business, especially because we didn’t know what was going to happen,” Payano said.
“After the pandemic, it’s hard to get people back to work. It’s hard to find products, and products are getting more expensive every day,” Parra said.
“But little by little we’ve been seeing things are steady, things are positive,” Payano said with a reassuring pep in his voice. “This opportunity that LIJ has given us is outstanding…This $30,000 to $35,000 grant for the year puts us at ease.” Payano further said that the grant money would cushion the added expenses incurred from the inflated food supply costs, so they do not have to raise their menu prices.
“As much as we are justified in raising prices because we’re spending more money, we’d rather hold it out, and in the next six months to a year, things will start to stabilize again,” said Payano, who hopes to ride the momentum of the grant and his many business community outreach opportunities to achieve success in the long haul.

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