A record number of restaurants are opening in New York. Kind of.

The return of restaurants. The season of hedonism. New York summer. There is no shortage of names to describe what is happening on the streets of New York once laden with yurts, but Nicole Biscardi believes there might be room for another. “This is the start of the restaurant renaissance,” says Biscardi, hospitality industry specialist at the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce.

In July 2020, when the five boroughs became an epicenter of the coronavirus around the world, city officials struggled to document the number of restaurant closings across the city – there were just as many. About a year later, the opposite is now true: New York is having one of its busiest restaurant opening seasons in over a year. Even if it’s not that busy.

Restaurant openings are on the rise again in New York City, but seen through the prism of pre-pandemic openings data, the renaissance is more like a slow recovery. “People might think restaurants are blowing doors, making money hand in hand, opening left and right, but they don’t realize how devastated the industry has been,” Biscardi said. “Even though it looks like things are back, they still aren’t.”

Nearly 700 restaurants opened between March and May 2021, according to the latest data available from Yelp, but more than 1,000 opened during the same period in 2019. May is generally one of the busiest months of the year for restaurant openings, the number of new openings fell by 300 restaurants from 2019 to 2021.

Restaurant reservation company Resy estimates that roughly the same number of businesses opened on its platform between April and June 2021 as during this same period in 2019. However, the reach of the company has more than doubled in recent years, from around 2,000 restaurants at the end of 2018 to more than 5,000 the following year, suggesting that openings have not kept pace with the company’s growth.

Still, this is an encouraging increase after a year that interrupted even the city’s busiest seasons for restaurant openings. Over the past year, Biscardi says she has monitored restaurant openings across the city, examining a workload of more than 600 businesses grappling with seasonal weather conditions and changing regulations. In the fall, when indoor dining briefly returned to New York City, there was a “panic” about how loosely worded state policies would play out in reality, she says. After the restaurants inside closed two months later, most of the restaurateurs she spoke to “were crying hysterically”, unsure whether their businesses would survive the winter.

By the spring, restrictions on coronaviruses had started to loosen and something became apparent, Biscardi says. In a year of ups – and especially downs – some restaurateurs were holding their breath, planning new projects, and waiting to launch those that were already in preparation before the pandemic. Now well into the summer, restaurant openings “shoot like a shotgun,” she said.

Aldama, located in the former location of Williamsburg Bar Loosie Rouge, opened in June.
Adam Friedlander / Eater

Granted, the number of restaurants open between March and May 2021 is down from 2019, but year over year the number of new food businesses is up about 92%, according to Yelp data. . Between March and July, about 1,300 additional establishments applied for permits through the New York Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, although that number also includes non-restaurant food businesses and renewals. existing restaurants.

Spring and fall were typically the busiest seasons for restaurant openings before the pandemic, but the latest increase in numbers is the culmination of a year-long “bottleneck”, according to Biscardi. “Because of the time it can take to plan and open a restaurant, there were a lot of restaurants waiting in the pipeline,” she says. When the pandemic restrictions on restaurants and bars started to ease, “people who were even kind of ready to go said, ‘Fuck it. Let’s do it now. ‘”

This is the case with Hand Hospitality, the successful group behind Her Name is Han and Izakaya Mew. Emboldened by the city’s reopening, Hand launched Little Mad in early June, a Korean-American restaurant in Nomad located in the same group’s former On space. Hand plans to expand with a second restaurant next month, a Thai establishment that has been under construction for more than a year but has been suspended due to the pandemic.

The openings were spurred by a feeling – that “everything is coming back slowly,” a spokesperson for the hotel group told Eater – but also a fear. “If we don’t do it now, how long later can we wait?” ” they say.

Hand Hospitality has reallocated its restaurant spaces, but elsewhere in New York City openings are being spurred by ‘fire sale’ rental deals made earlier in the pandemic, according to Andrew Moger, founder of local sandwich chain Melt Shop and real estate development company BCD. “The things that are opening up now are deals that were made during the pandemic,” when rents were reduced by 30 to 50 percent in parts of the city, he says. “It’s not like you sign a lease now and take it over the next day. It takes time.”

A luxe dining room with gold trim, red and orange booths, custom light fixtures, and fruit on display

Restaurateur Andrew Carmellini opened Carne Mare at the South Street Seaport in June.
Nicole Franzen / Carne Mare

For operators with capital earlier in the pandemic, the investments are starting to pay off. Blank Street Coffee, which opened in Williamsburg last August, now has a double-digit line of brick-and-mortar coffee carts and cafes to its credit. Founders Issam Freiha and Vinay Menda plan to open 20 more locations in New York City by the end of the summer, they say, about a third of which will be brick and mortar.

“We were the only bid most of the time,” Menda said of lease agreements made around the same time last year. “We had all the time in the world to decide what we wanted to do. “

These same opportunities are rarer today. Brandon Pena is the founder of Puerto Rican roaster 787 Coffee, which nearly doubled its number of locations last year – from four to 11 – by signing leases on coffee spaces that closed during the pandemic. He estimates that rental prices have increased by around 20% compared to the same period last year. “There are a lot of restaurants opening and everyone is trying to get the best price,” says Pena, who outbid three cafe spaces in June alone.

“Everything we’ve looked at, the prices are going up because they have deals now,” he says. “Before, they didn’t have anyone.

Food courts may relocate again, but experts say New York City’s economy may still be years away from returning to pre-pandemic levels and may be slower to rebound than other regions metropolitan areas of the country. Other factors, including the end of the state’s hiatus on business evictions on September 1 and the depletion of the Restaurant Revitalization Fund, mean a slight increase in restaurant closings could be on the horizon.

Biscardi will be the first to say that she is not a “fear sower” – or a city-wide economics expert – but as someone who has been on the ground with restaurant owners and bars over the past year, she thinks “we’re on the right track. return ”, even if it is long. “Even under perfect circumstances – everything is open, the rules are lifted, people want to come out – I think we are looking at another two or three years,” she said.

Still, a rebirth is a parent, and Biscardi expects restaurants and bars to keep opening, especially as New York City draws closer to its second busiest season for openings: the fall.

Tags : restaurants bars
Richard Dement

The author Richard Dement