Opinions & Observations: Heated outdoor dining key to future for vital restaurants to survive pandemic, our eateries need more safe space, funding


While many elected officials and other leaders see restaurants as places where people come to eat and then resume their lives elsewhere, that’s not the case in communities like Bay Ridge where local dining spots become mini-community centers, playing host to regulars and hosting meetings of local civic groups. They form the super-structure for the wider area, just as Third Avenue has done for Bay Ridge for several years.

There’s some good news: The City Council voted to continue the current outdoor dining plan for another year, laying the groundwork for a permanent plan for the five boroughs that includes using city road space.

Up and down Third Avenue and, of course, along Fifth Avenue as well, the expanded heated al fresco spots are popping up — and persevering — despite the pandemic, largely because it’s a lot safer to eat outdoors.

Local leaders are calling on Congress to enact a bill known as the Restaurants Act; it is a measure that would provide direct aid to these small businesses by helping to fund rentals, utilities, various expenses and payroll.

Leaders like Bob HoweBrian Chin, Chip Cafiero, Lori Pedone and Marc Hibsher have been urging more support for the Restaurants Act, which is especially needed now that another wave of the pandemic is upon us. Among those restaurateurs who could benefit are George Kabbez of Salty Dog; Lockie Sideris, who owns the bright and tastefully lit Omonia; and John Keegan and Bob Daquara, who operate the popular Greenhouse Café.  

Omonia owner Lockie Sideris serves up delicious desserts.

All of the restaurants mentioned above, along with several others, have indeed become community centers for civic and religious groups that can no longer get together in meeting halls, churches or other enclosed areas.

One indication of our restaurants’ vital contribution as community centers is typically on display each year when the Merchants of Third Avenue holds its Pioneer Awards Reception. The Pioneers program has selected restaurateurs such as the above-named because they do more than serving as dining places. In “normal times” here in Bay Ridge, these spots have become vital to the day-to-day operation of the overall community.

Leaders here believe that the survival of our restaurants will be a key to an overall recovery — especially when the Pfizer vaccine is distributed within the next several months.

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