Photo source: Google Maps. Ceetay at 129 Alexander Avenue.

Indoor dining is back, but some restaurants opt to stay outside

While restaurants across New York City were allowed to resume indoor dining at 25% capacity on September 30, some South Bronx restaurants are opting out. Instead, they’re choosing to continue the inventive takeout and outdoor dining initiatives they began in the summer.

Newfound reliance on remote business has driven business owners to reimagine how to serve customers and unite the people of the South Bronx. While there’s no question the pandemic has hit businesses hard—especially the food service industry, which has lost more than 283,000 jobs since September 2019—some of the changes they’ve made out of necessity have had positive value.

When the citywide shutdown began in March, La Morada on Willis Avenue shifted to serving walk-in and delivery orders and opened a free food soup kitchen to make sure the community is fed.

“We always believe in community over profits,” says La Morada co-owner Yajaira Saavedra.

They’ll continue to provide takeout and very limited outdoor dining services throughout the fall. They don’t plan to reopen for indoor dining until the risk of coronavirus significantly decreases.

Cecil Brooks, Chair of the Bronx Borough Committee for Transportation Alternatives and a program manager at the NYC Department of Small Business Services, has watched many businesses shift operations throughout the last seven months. In particular, he’s been inspired to see the many new ways they’ve used space in the neighborhood.

“People have used open streets as a radical experiment of how they can use public space,” he says.

On Alexander Avenue, five restaurants—Beatstro, Ceetay, Hudson Smokehouse, Monte’s Brick Oven, and the Lit. Bar—have banded together with help from the Bronx Community Foundation and Third Avenue Business Improvement District to create the first open street dining area in the Bronx.

The initiative started in September and is part of the City’s Open Streets: Restaurants program. It gives the five restaurants of the energetic business corridor the space they need to safely expand their outdoor seating. And, so far, it’s been a success.

“It opened a new world for me,” says Amir Chayon, owner of Ceetay. With outdoor dining, Ceetay needs fewer staff members, allowing them to double kitchen space to provide more food for delivery and pickup, which has grown in popularity since the beginning of the pandemic. These financial gains have encouraged Ceetay to continue exploring outdoor dining options.

As a whole, outdoor dining has provided more seats than would be possible indoors, where each restaurant can only serve one fourth of its full capacity. Through Open Streets, restaurants can serve as many people will fit onto the street with six feet between each table and a 15-foot emergency lane.

Open Streets has expanded to Willis Avenue, which now also provides outdoor dining seven days a week from 10am-8pm.

On September 25, Mayor Bill De Blasio extended the citywide open streets initiative until October 31 and made outdoor dining a permanent option for restaurants. The Alexander Avenue restaurants hope to continue serving customers through the fall and to continue dreaming up new ways to serve people outdoors.