When restaurant entrepreneur Robert Briskin opened American Brass in Long Island City in early March, it was the beginning of a new business venture — in the midst of the coronavirus outbreak.
Located behind the Long Island City’s gantry cranes, American Brass instantly became one of the largest eateries in the neighborhood — second only to its under-the-Pepsi-sign sister restaurant Maiella, also owned by Briskin.
Briskin received his liquor license on March 13 — the very same day the city had instituted a 50 percent capacity rule at restaurants citywide in response to the coronavirus outbreak. Then, on March 15, Briskin was notified the restaurant would be shut down to stem the spread of the virus.
“I had a meeting with the chefs and managers for a game plan moving forward,” Briskin said. “We created a new menu with food, beer and wine and started putting together packages.”
American Brass instituted a special takeout and delivery platform for a robust offering of savory dishes, desserts, wine, craft cocktails-for-delivery via barman Aiden Bowie and LIC craft beer — including its own LIC Beer Project collaboration brew American Brass Pale Ale.
The dinner menu includes nearly a dozen main seafood and protein-based main courses including their signature shrimp scampi, starters like barbecue calamari and red wine-infused macaroni and cheese, plats du jour such as their seven-hour lamb shoulder over 10 sides like sautéed seven beans with bacon. Eight different desserts are also on offer including their housemade coconut cake.
“Just for this occasion the liquor authority is allowing restaurants to deliver alcohol,” Briskin said. “We hired a couple of bartenders to make the drinks and we’re trying our best. We know that this process is not a money-making opportunity, and we know we’re going to be running at a loss. If we can tolerate the level at a loss we can keep people employed. We’re trying to figure it out.”
According to Briskin, it was a difficult decision to lay off nearly 90 employees from both restaurants.
“People knew this message wasn’t coming from us. They knew if you were a waiter or busboy your job was likely in jeopardy,” Briskin said. “Nobody is able to support their families — a lot of our people work paycheck to paycheck. I couldn’t sleep for three days. We have a tremendous responsibility for our staff and we always put them before ourselves.”
For Briskin, the shutdown of establishments came a month too late, he said.
“It takes a lot of foresight to shut down the biggest economy in the world,” Briskin said. “It should’ve been done earlier and I wasn’t happy about it anyway. I thought it was too late and what it meant for us. I think we’re the last restaurant to open before the shutdown.”
Briskin said they’re taking necessary precautions such as consistently sanitizing the facility wiping down door knobs and handles. Additionally, they’re partnering with GrubHub and Seamless to deliver meals to customers.
“I’m trying to keep my head up so far. We’re trying to stay positive and be there for our community and keep everyone safe hoping for warm weather in trying to kill this virus,” Briskin said. “We’re all in it together and we’re here for our community. We just want people to stay positive and hope for the best and know it’s around the corner and this won’t last forever.”