‘It’s a small start’: Queens restaurants celebrate reopening of indoor dining at 25 percent capacity

New York City restaurants like La Casita Mexicana in Ridgewood are now open for indoor dining at 25 percent capacity. (Photo by Gabriele Holtermann)


Indoor dining returned at 25 percent capacity for restaurants in Queens and around New York City on Friday, Feb. 12, after dining establishments had to limit their business to takeout and deliveries in December 2020 due to an increase in COVID-19 cases.

Governor Andrew Cuomo on Friday also loosened the closing time restrictions for bars and restaurants and extended operating hours to 11 p.m. statewide as of Feb. 14.

Hercules Kontogianais, co-owner of Nonnas 1977 in Bayside on Bell Boulevard, was excited about the reopening.

“It’s a start. It’s a small start, but [we’ll] take it,” he said.

The eatery, which serves upscale pizza square pies labeled after female named song titles in a rock ‘n’ roll themed setting, has been able to survive with delivery and takeout. Like many in the restaurant business, Kontogianais felt that Governor Cuomo’s announcement to bring back indoor dining in New York City was too short notice.

The exterior of Nonnas 1977 in Bayside, which is now open for indoor dining. (Photo by Gabriele Holtermann)

“I think it was a late start on that, even though they pulled a little bit. We didn’t have enough time to set everything up,” Kontogianais said. “To get the right thing going in order to get the right amount of people in the store and set up the right way, you need at least about a week.”

Indoor dining at the Bell Boulevard location — Nonnas 1977 also has a place in Astoria — is limited to four tables, three four-tops, and one two-top, separated by a display case with Nonnas memorabilia and a table adorned with plants.

For Peter Jozwik, owner of La Casita Mexicana, a small and cheerfully decorated Mexican restaurant in Ridgewood, it has been a challenging ride. Jozwik signed the restaurant lease on March 6 in 2020, two weeks before the city went into lockdown because of COVID-19.

A thermometer for the required temperature check sits on the counter of La Casita Mexicana. (Photo by Gabriele Holtermann)

La Casita Mexicana offers takeout, but the revenue does not cover all the costs, and Jozwik explained that to make ends meet, his restaurant with three tables and a bar needs to be open at 50 percent occupancy minimum. To make matters worse, the restaurant did not qualify for PPP because his business wasn’t in operation before Feb. 15, 2020.

“It’s unprecedented. We are barely surviving at this point. Even with 25 percent inside, it’s ridiculous,” he said.

Even though they were approved for a liquor license four months ago, they are still waiting for a document from one city agency before they can begin selling alcohol.

“Alcohol is at least 40 percent of our revenue. Everybody wants to go out and have a drink,” Jozwik explained. “We have been getting more and more deliveries and takeout, but without alcohol? You got stay positive, but sometimes it’s just …”

David Cazares, one of his guests, felt comfortable eating indoors again. Following Department of Health’s COVID-19 guidelines, he had his temperature taken upon entering the eatery and had to provide his name, address and phone number for contract tracing efforts.

“It feels great. It feels normal,” the former bartender and sommelier at Capital Grille on Wall Street and frequent diner said.

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