Skip to main content

People eat outside of Dudley's as restaurants are permitted to offer al fresco dining as part of phase 2 reopening during the coronavirus disease outbreak in the Lower East Side neighbourhood of Manhattan in New York City on June 27, 2020.ANDREW KELLY/Reuters

In November of last year, Mokyo restaurant opened its doors for business in New York’s East Village.

Business picked up quickly over a short few months for the restaurant, which is inspired by Japanese and Peruvian cuisine, with a touch of Korean.

“We’d actually be completely full on the weekends,” David Joonwoo Yun, partner and general manager told The Globe and Mail.

In March, however, Mokyo shuttered its doors, alongside virtually every other business in the city, once New York became the epicentre of the coronavirus pandemic. Schools were shut down, companies told employees to work from home, and businesses either completely closed their doors or resorted to operating at a fraction of their original capacities.

Now, for the first time in months, New York is beginning to look a little more like itself again as some lockdown restrictions were loosened on June 22. The city witnessed its first weekend of restaurants opening with outdoor dining. Other businesses such as hair salons were allowed to reopen with limited capacity.

Parts of the city that bustled with tourists before the pandemic, such as Times Square, remained empty. But more residential areas such as the East Village saw some stores and restaurants open. On Saturday, despite a drizzle throughout the day, diners sat out under patio roofs and at sidewalk tables.

As the city slowly reopened, Mokyo was gearing up as well. In mid-May, as COVID-19 cases slowly dropped, the restaurant decided to open up its bar for weekends, selling takeout cocktails and drinks. Last Tuesday, it brought back its kitchen staff for deliveries and outdoor dining.

New York State reported only five COVID-19 related deaths on Saturday, the lowest daily figure since lockdown restrictions began. At the height of the pandemic, the state was seeing hundreds of daily deaths connected to the virus.

At the same time, other U.S. states such as Arizona, Florida and Texas are seeing rising cases and becoming new hot spots for the virus. Texas and Florida have recently reversed course and tightened restrictions again; reports from Arizona say authorities are cracking down on businesses that aren’t adhering to physical-distancing guidelines.

Mokyo’s Mr. Yun estimates that for the past month or so, his block alone would see crowds of around 200 to 300 on a given weekend night and customers would queue down the block to buy drinks. Mr. Yun told The Globe that the large crowds were concerning but drink sales had been enough to cover the restaurant’s essential expenses for the past few weeks.

But since last Tuesday, when Mokyo opened its doors for outdoor dining and delivery, customers have been limited to three outdoor tables on the sidewalk near the restaurant’s entrance, all distanced to meet health guidelines.

With only three tables, it wasn’t difficult to have a full house these past few days, Mr. Yun said, although the limited seating does restrict the revenue the restaurant would normally bring in from diners. To keep costs down, he is taking on a lot of the workload himself. “I’m working as a server, busser, runner and so are our other owners and partners. We’re trying to limit down our labour costs,” he said.

Even with outdoor dining available now, the restaurant’s crowd – at least on weekends – is still geared to customers grabbing to-go drinks.

On Friday, “the street got really packed so the restaurant kind of turned into a bar,” said Mr. Yun who added that toward the end of the night, the restaurant decided to take out the tables to make room for the standing crowds.

In other areas of the city, such as Midtown, with fewer residents and more office buildings that have, for the most part, been empty since lockdown restrictions began, things are much quieter.

Cohen BarberShop, located right by Times Square, reopened its doors on Monday, the first day the city entered Phase 2, more than three months after closing down.

Anna Meshcheri, who owns the barber shop, says that because of the location, most of her customers used to be either tourists or those who worked near the area. Clients would range from those visiting from out of town to construction workers to those from Viacom and Fox News, both of which have offices nearby.

Now, because there are no tourists nor fully open offices in Midtown, business has dropped off drastically. Whereas before the store would bring in around 70 customers daily, Ms. Meshcheri says that since reopening she has been seeing around 10 a day. Before, the shop would have four barbers; now there are two.

“And we only have work for one barber so the second barber is basically sitting without any work,” Ms. Meshcheri said.

“Honestly, business is awful and we’re devastated,” she said, adding that because most companies in the area don’t look like they’ll be bringing back employees into the offices any time soon, she doesn’t expect business to pick up until at least after Labour Day.

“The area used to be packed with people. I couldn’t even drive my car because of the tourists,” Ms. Meshcheri said. “Now it’s dead, this particular area. Times Square is dead.”