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NYC restaurants rise from COVID pandemic ashes as bookings soar for holidays

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Big Apple restaurants are gearing up for a smashing holiday season — lower than pre-pandemic numbers, but enough to maintain their spirits, and bank accounts, up.

Restaurant bookings have soared 34% compared with last yr, but are still down by a 3rd from 2019, in accordance with data compiled for Side Dish by OpenTable.

Restaurateurs who had money to bet big and expand during lockdown are reaping the advantages for gutting out the tough times.

“We’re almost sold out for holiday party private bookings,” said Stratis Morfogen, of Brooklyn Chop House in Times Square, who signed the lease for the 680-seat eatery through the pandemic.

The OpenTable stats, based on the variety of seated diners through the first week of September from online, phone and walk-in reservations, bear out Morfogen’s enthusiasm. The corporate doesn’t provide raw reservation numbers, just the percent changes, a spokesperson said.

Andrew Rigie, executive director for the Latest York City Hospitality Alliance, described the sensation amongst restaurateurs as “cautious optimism.”

“People booked holiday parties last November and that got restaurants excited. But then got here omicron,” Rigie said. “We’re in a distinct place than we were this time last yr. …. But there are still labor shortage problems and inflation to take care of, together with uncertainty in regards to the city’s outdoor open dining program.”

Stratis Morfogen“We’re almost sold out for holiday party private bookings,” Morfogen said.Lois Cabral

Many older restaurants are struggling to survive as recent restaurants open, and plenty of that rely upon a every day mixture of office employees and tourists are also still fighting for survival, Rigie added.

Even critically acclaimed recent hotspots are falling on their cooking knives. Earlier this week, Dumpling Lab — a Tsingtao-inspired gastropub within the East Village, from the team behind Hunan Slurp —  shuttered after a yr, the identical week it received Michelin Bib Gourmand status.

The owners didn’t respond for comment, but they hope to open in one other space soon, in accordance with reports.

Securing deal on a lease through the pandemic played a key role in a restaurant’s survival after the lockdowns were lifted.  

Restaurateur AJ Bontempo, managing partner of South Village Hospitality Group, signed a pandemic lease for an outpost of his Williamsburg restaurant, Ainslie, in April 2021. The large, 20,000 square-foot East Village / Lower East Side spot at 199 Bowery didn’t open until Sept. 29 but is already getting booked up for holiday events, Bontempo said.

A nearly empty street is seen in Times Square in June 2020.Restaurateurs who had money to bet big and expand during lockdown are reaping the advantages for gutting out the tough times. Bloomberg via Getty Images

“We’re big believers in Latest York,” said Bontempo, whose recent place replaces Vandal, which closed during COVID. “The energy and vibrancy got here back in an enormous way, which is able to only attract more people back to town. Since Latest York  was impacted in an enormous way through the pandemic, we imagine its rebound might be equally large.”

Nathan Leong, who co-owns Somewhere Nowhere in Chelsea, just opened Gamehaus in Long Island City, which spans 5,000 square-feet over two floors. He also signed the lease in 210-seat Gamehaus in April 2021. Somewhere Nowhere seats 316 guests.

“Forty percent of our dates are already booked up for personal events at Somewhere Nowhere, and Gamehaus is filling its semi-private, second-floor corporate gatherings and family events,” Leong said. “It’s been great to witness post-pandemic numbers.”

At one other recent spot, Saint, at 136 Second Avenue — which opened in May — event bookings are also thriving. The bilevel restaurant has capability for 250 people upstairs and 100 downstairs. It’s seeing full buyouts in Saint’s Downstairs speakeasy lounge, in addition to the Parlour Bar/Garden, which is being booked for events, a spokesperson said.

Brooklyn Chop HouseThe lease for the 680-seat Brooklyn Chop House was signed through the pandemic.Lois Cabral

Latest, smaller restaurants are also doing well.

Morfogen opened an 800 square-foot Brooklyn Dumpling Shop last Wednesday. He said he needed 100 people a day to make it profitable. To his surprise, he says, he has been getting 1,100 people a day and long lines, forcing him to cancel all online and delivery services until they’ll get in control.  

“Back in 2020, we predicted almost to the day that things would turn around this quarter, and so they have,” Morfogen said.

Brooklyn BBQ joint to reopen

We hear…that 18 months after a devastating fire, Morgan’s Brooklyn Barbecue is reopening in Prospect Heights on Oct. 25. And it’s coming back even higher following a smokehouse rebuild with updated wood finishes, furnishings and reclaimed industrial lights, together with a restored green interior support wall and reversion chalkboard menus.

“It was essential for us to take care of the integrity of the unique space, which is so familiar for our regulars, BBQ lovers and the neighborhood,” said owner Mathew Glazier of GlazierWorks.

Miraculously, Glazier said, the on-site smoker survived the fireplace, allowing Chef Cenobio Canalizo to take care of the restaurant’s signature slow-smoked prime brisket, sausage, pork, ribs and bacon. There will even be an in depth bourbon list, delivery and weekend brunch.

We hear … that following a three-year hiatus, City Harvest’s signature tasting event is back in-person at The Glasshouse, at 660 twelfth Ave., on Oct. 18. “City Harvest Presents BID 2022: Through the Looking Glass” will bring together greater than 50 of town’s top chefs, restaurants and mixologists, including Eric Ripert, Tom Colicchio, Geoffrey Zakarian and Melba Wilson. The event will help City Harvest provide meals to hundreds of thousands of Latest Yorkers in need.

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