Restaurateurs show no love for Valentine’s Day indoor dining return

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Some Valentine’s Day gift! 

Restaurateurs say Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s plan to reopen indoor dining at limited capacity on Feb. 14 won’t help them make money — but they’re doing it anyway for fear of losing out to the competition. 

“It’s complicated,” explained Barry Dry, CEO of Parched Hospitality, which owns the Aussie-style Hole in the Wall restaurant cafes. “If you have a brand and a restaurant that people like and then you shut it down, you lose all that brand recognition and people will start going to other places.” 

The idea, said Dry — who also owns The Sentry, a rooftop restaurant and cocktail bar opening this month at Hotel Hendricks and Hotel Henri — is to keep the brand in people’s mind so they return in larger numbers in the summer. 

Tribeca’s Kitchen, which will open for the first time inside on Valentine’s Day, agreed that the governor’s plan to let restaurants open at 25 percent capacity presents owners with a dilemma: Open now at little to no profit or save the headache and risk being left behind. 

“We did a projection. We will make 1 percent profit. It’s a bold prediction. It’s a better shot that we will lose money,” says Rick Camac, Tribeca’s Kitchen’s operations director. 

“You can’t make money at 25 percent capacity and it’s a joke if anyone thinks they can. But you kind of have to be open. We just built a beautiful space. We can’t build and not open,” Camac said. 

“Part of opening it to be benevolent for our employees and part is purely for marketing — just to keep our name out there. To break even is a great goal in my opinion,” Camac said. 

Restaurateur Guy Vaknin of the Beyond Sushi vegan restaurant chain — and a new vegan restaurant, Willow, opening this month — says that with limited indoor dining at 25 percent capacity, he hopes, at best, to break even. 

“At 25 percent, we will just break even,” Vaknin says. 

“We are doing it to keep the company and the brand going, and to keep my employees and me employed and to look into the future when we will go back to 50 percent and then 75 percent and then 100 percent indoor dining capacity. 

“At this point,” he added, “it is not about making money but circulating enough funds into the system to survive until the gods of New York decide we can open fully. For now, we are still burning money but we will be burning less when we can open indoors.” 

But in order to operate when his current revenue is 10 percent to 15 percent of total revenue before the pandemic, he had to borrow — a lot. 

“Then I doubled down and borrowed even more so I could open my new restaurant, Willow,” he said, adding that he believes revenue will increase to 30 percent or 35 percent with limited indoor dining. 

“It’s really sad. I’m making it work on crumbs. I started the pandemic with no debt, but I decided to borrow money for the first time in my life to survive. It’s been rough, but it is what it is and I’m not going to let this get me down,” Vaknin said, adding that he is a big believer in the city. 

“I believe New York will come back stronger,” he said. “I want to keep the restaurants going. 

“I love what I do and I can’t stop doing it.”

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