PATCHOGUE

A 10 p.m. COVID closing stymies restaurants and bars

Patchogue Village reaction

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While Friday the 13th has an ominous reputation, it lived up to its folklore superstition this year for businesses, especially bar and restaurant owners.

That’s when Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s edict went into effect: All bars, restaurants and gyms must close at 10 p.m. in response to the ramp-up in COVID-19 cases. Restaurants with takeout service can continue after 10 p.m., but no takeout liquor.

Greater Patchogue Chamber of Commerce executive director David Kennedy issued the governor’s message an hour after receiving it on Wednesday, Nov. 11, Veterans Day.

“We had a restaurant committee meeting that day just before the governor’s edict,” said Kennedy. “I’m hopeful they can get the governor to adjust so that they can breathe a little easier.”

There are approximately 40 bars and restaurants in Patchogue’s downtown. “If you include the zip code, there are 50 to 60 at least,” he said.

Jaime Bonanno, owner of The Tap Room with partner David Johnson, had already strategized a plan: instead of just dinner, they were opening their doors again for lunch this week.”

“Starting noon, we’ll be open for seven lunch days a week,” said Bonanno, who chairs the chamber’s restaurant committee.

“We were open for lunch pre-pandemic,” he said. “I’ll open up for lunch again to employ people and get as many hours for my staff as I can.”

His staff tally is about 50, he said. As for the village, “There’s got to be well over a thousand restaurant employees,” he said.

“If you’re not working in the business, you might say, ‘What’s the big deal?’ [about the 10 p.m. shutoff], but at The Tap Room we have a decent amount of diners until midnight every day,” Bonanno said. “My main concern is my staff and their hours; a lot work until midnight and 1 a.m. If you cut that, it cuts their time and pay in half. And I have a lot of staff that start at 7 p.m., so now they have to work for three hours.”

He’s owned the restaurant for 10 years in April.

“Even pre-pandemic, our kitchen was open until midnight for food,” he said. “So now at 9 p.m., we have to stop taking orders to make time to cook the food and bring the check.”

The restaurant will be closed Thanksgiving. But even with the current hardships, “We’re looking to help 10 families through Help From the Heart,” he said. Other restaurants have also been stepping up to help feed the needy for the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday.

Kennedy said one of the biggest complaints he’s heard from the committee is ‘How do you handle a patron who comes in hovering a bit after 9 p.m.?’ “They’re grappling with ‘How much time can you give the patron before pushing them out the door?’” he said.

“For Patchogue, it is a challenge. We have a young energy here and eating 8 or 9 o’clock is normal. But you can’t deny there’s been an alarming increase in COVID cases. The governor has all the best intentions and New York State has done a good job keeping the numbers down, but it’s just another blow.

“We’ll keep the message out there to do the right thing.”

Kennedy was among officials and bar and restaurant owners during a Zoom meeting set up by New York State Sen. Monica Martinez’s office on Oct. 30 with the chairman of the New York State Liquor Authority.

“Another thing that came out in that dialogue is that the SLA’s enforcement up to this point has been a little skewered,” Kennedy said. “There’s been a sense we were targeted and that the inspectors were coming in three or four times a day, which included a violation for a guy in the kitchen with a mask that wasn’t entirely over his face. While I understand the strict edict, the spirit of all this was getting compliance and stopping the spread.

“Restaurant owners were telling us they were getting banged big time and elsewhere, not at all. The SLA commissioner who spoke at Martinez’s meeting, said ‘Yes, we are sending out inspectors where there is a high confluence of restaurants.’ So there’s an uneven application of the law. I totally respect that the governor is talking to scientists, but you should have some of these restaurant guys at the table.”

At the meeting, it was discussed that some businesses are inspected 15 times and others, three times; some business owners often don’t know the penalties for violations until they reapply for a liquor license.

Patchogue mayor Paul Pontieri was asked if the village would be enforcing the state curfew.

“That’s been my question since the beginning,” he said. “We don’t have the authority. It will have to be enforced by Suffolk County police and the State Liquor Authority.”

John Peragine, owner of PeraBell Food Bar and Donatina Neapolitan Pizza and Café, said a lot of owners are afraid of speaking up for fear of being targeted.

“We’ve already put a lot of money into installing safety dividers, renting tents and heaters, distancing tables and doing everything that’s asked, and now with winter coming, he’s limiting us to 10 p.m.?” said Peragine. “Financially, it’s getting really hard. We just got two violations. The inspectors come in, they don’t announce who they are, and they snap a picture of someone with a mask under their nose who’s in the kitchen preparing food, who pushed his mask up for a second because it’s hot. They banged us for $3,000.”

Peragine pointed out that the violations are uneven.

“You can have 100 people in a home-furnishings store. Why is he just attacking just the restaurants?” he asked. “It comes down to fairness.”

PeraBell is closed Mondays, but the rest of the week it’s open for lunch and dinner.

“We’re all working harder now than we ever have in our lives and we’re not making money doing it. It’s not a greed thing, it’s to keep our doors open.”

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