Not all Big Apple restaurants were happy as a citywide vaccine mandate took effect on Monday — and some are all but thumbing their noses at the controversial clampdown.
The so-called “Key to NYC” program — which requires diners to show proof they’ve been vaccinated from COVID — has gotten support from high-profile restaurateurs like Danny Meyer of the Gramercy Tavern and Eric Ripert of Le Bernardin, as well as the owners of Sylvia’s in Harlem.
But some fret that the new rules won’t be enforceable, and that they will turn off tourists as local eateries scramble to recover from a year and a half of lockdowns. Others say they won’t even try to enforce the new rule beginning Sept. 13, when city inspections at restaurants, indoor entertainment venues and gyms are slated to begin.
Shortly after Mayor Bill de Blasio announced the new rules on Aug. 3, a sign appeared in the front window of Pasticceria Rocco, a pastry shop and diner in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn: “We do not discriminate against any customer based on sex, gender, race, creed, age, vaccinated or unvaccinated. All customers who wish to patronize are welcome.”
“For me, it’s not political — most of my customers are vaccinated,” said Mary Josephine Generoso, who manages the eatery. “It’s about civil liberties and freedoms. Now we have to be in a society where people can’t roam freely and enter my place of business if they want to? How is that OK in the United States of America?”
Generoso said she hasn’t spoken with city officials about the new rules — and admitted she isn’t exactly sure what she’ll do if they show up at her door.
“It’s scary. I feel like we will be made an example of,” Generoso said. “It is really hard to go up against a machine, and that’s what we are up against. Honestly, I put the sign up because I was hoping that other business owners would also have the courage to speak out. But it is mainly our customers who have reached out in support.”
Andrew Rigie, executive director of the NYC Hospitality Alliance — a key trade group for Big Apple restaurants — says he understands the complexities and controversies of the vax order, but says it is nevertheless necessary.
“There are restaurateurs who support it and restaurateurs who oppose it,” Rigie said. “No doubt the vaccine requirement will pose challenges to restaurants, but all seem to agree we cannot go back to harsher restrictions and shutdowns.”
On Monday, the city released details of the new guidelines, clarifying that children younger than 12 years old with vaccinated parents will be allowed to dine indoors. Outdoor dining won’t be restricted. The new rules will apply to indoor restaurants, bars, museums and movie theaters, but not to places such as office buildings, community and senior centers as well as outdoor dining set ups.
On Sept. 13, the city will begin issuing fines starting at $1,000 for first offense, $2,000 the second time — to indoor businesses that fail to ensure their venues are off limits for those who remain unvaccinated.
Acceptable proofs of vaccination include a picture of your Center for Disease Control vaccination card, the NYC COVID Safe App, the New York State Excelsior App or an actual CDC vaccine card.
Stratis Morfogen, owner of the Brooklyn Chop House and the Brooklyn Dumpling Shop, believes it will add up to little more than a dog-and-pony show — and says it’s not a good look for restaurants.
“What are we, the police? Asking our diners to ‘Show us ze papers,’ like in Nazi Germany?” Morfogen fumed, adding that the city mandate “is against our constitutional rights and everything we stand for.”
To make matters worse, the restaurateur gripes that a black market vax-card industry is booming, with counterfeit paper cards reportedly being sold for $100.
“Twelve-year-olds can copy it,” Morfogen said. “They need to fix the quality of the ID. We’re not going to have conflicts with our patrons questioning the authenticity of these amateur documents. We will ask nicely and our customers will show us their reports filled out in pen just to go along with this political sham.”
Jeffrey Bank, president and CEO of Alicart Restaurant Group, which runs Carmine’s on the Upper West Side and Times Square, says they will support the vax-only mandate, but adds that it comes with its own complexities.
“Here’s the million-dollar question: A party of eight comes in. They are all vaccinated except for one person, who claims a religious exemption. What do you do?”
Robert Briskin, who owns American Brass and Maiella in Queens, also said that along with the policing issue, letting go of unvaccinated staff will also be problematic.
“I’m sure my staff can sit home and collect from the same people enforcing these rules,” Briskin said. “I would appreciate it if the government did its own dirty work and would stop bossing me around. I spent a year being the mask police and now I have to be the vaccine police. Is the city going to pay me for my service?”