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At the height of the pandemic, troubled restaurants hung on a damp lifeline: while largely unable to serve customers or do the kind of business that allows a restaurant to thrive, temporary alcohol mandates provided at least some relief in all states . Sure, a bar or restaurant might not have been able to wrap guests up like it used to, but at least they could serve cocktails out of makeshift to-go windows or turn rooms into something resembling a wine shop. But while city and state governments declare the pandemic over,ish, Some of the relaxed alcohol laws that helped restaurants make a profit and stay open are being rolled back. For restaurateurs still bouncing off the 2020 losses, the change can feel too early and too abrupt to sell all of their inventory.
The recent withdrawals of these mild take-away cocktails and liquor laws have come into effect in both New York and Pennsylvania, where restaurant owners have been making adjustments for more than a year as regulations and restrictions force them to advertise and to improvise. In Pennsylvania, take-away laws applied rolled back June 15, without notice, following the Republican-controlled state and Senate move to curtail the power of Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf in times of need. At a press conference on Wednesday, June 23, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced that the state of emergency that allowed restaurants to sell take-away alcohol was over and that the practice would end the next day. „The emergency is over,” said Cuomo at the conference. In both states, restaurateurs are conforming as best they can to state regulations that ignore – or simply ignore – how precarious it is to run a restaurant at the end of a pandemic.
Before the pandemic, guests in Shaka Shaka, a studio-sized tiki bar in Brooklyn, sat practically on top of each other. When indoor eating and drinking were restricted in New York, owner Garrett Mukai took advantage of the newly introduced take-away alcohol law, which allowed him to sell containers of pina colada and cycle around the neighborhood, serving jugs of mai tai deliver. For Mukai, the abrupt end of the to-go liquor in New York is an economic blow, but even more so is the impact on his relationship with regulars. „We have built relationships with wonderful neighbors who I know will take their take-away drinks home to safely enjoy with their family,” Mukai Eater said in an email. „I’m sure I can wave to them when they stop by the bar on their way home from work, but they probably won’t be regular customers with us anymore.” Mukai says the financial losses won’t be huge, but „as a very small company that adds up.”
Shaka Shaka used takeaway cocktails to find some of this community in a time of isolation, but it never turned into a liquor and wine store like some bars and restaurants do. Owners who have invested in renovating their premises and adding more wine and spirits are facing serious challenges as mandates are being withdrawn. Eater NY Reports that some restaurants are now stuck with up to $ 15,000 in stored alcohol. Some restaurateurs estimated that the retail stores they’d invested time and money building still accounted for 10-30 percent of their restaurant’s total sales, even if the food returns indoors.
When Gertie, a modern Jewish deli in New York’s Williamsburg neighborhood, was able to dine inside again on Memorial Day weekend, some diners thought the dining room was still closed. That’s because Nate Adler, the owner of the restaurant, had built such an impressive wall of wine and liquor bottles that the front cash register obscured the room. With both indoor and outdoor dining in the sprawling restaurant, Adler does not rely on takeaway liquor sales to keep its business afloat. Nonetheless, the 24 hour reverse policy notification is a blow and feels like an insult to the time he has invested in developing his business. „Last month we sold 100 bottles to-go,” says Adler. “About $ 3,500 [in wine], and liquor was another $ 700, and then there are takeaway cocktails. It’s a 24-hour notification after 16 months … It means no understanding or consultation with the restaurant business at all. „In a recent interview, Adler told Eater NY that he” has nearly $ 2,000 worth of inventory today, that I either have to refuse or find another way to sell „.
Instead of working With State and local governments during the pandemic had to operate restaurants too often despite this. Restaurant owners, for the most part, were not optimistic that the relaxed alcohol laws would extend forever. But with a pandemic still hurting business and the taste of seemingly endless start-and-stop mandates still bitter in the mouth, this recent policy change is uncomfortably familiar in both New York and Pennsylvania.
Before the pandemic, Hart’s, Cervos, and The Fly were three of the liveliest, most reliable tables in New York. At the beginning of the pandemic, all three restaurants were converted into markets and wine shops. Although Cervos and The Fly moved back to dine-in customers, Hart’s remained a market and wine store throughout the pandemic – until now. Nialls Fallon, one of the restaurant group’s founders, suspected the New York takeaway laws wouldn’t last forever, but he was hoping there would be more than a day to adjust. „As a small company in the pandemic, we had to constantly think about how we could do things better and more proactively than the guidelines or regulations that are issued by government at all levels, from the city to the federal government,” he said Eater in an email. „It is unfortunate that the leadership is issuing and amending rules with 24 hours notice at this stage of the pandemic.”
In Pennsylvania, restaurateur Nicholas Elmi was deeply frustrated when alcohol laws were rolled back without notice. Elmi, the chef and partner at Laurel and In the Valley Restaurant in Philadelphia, and Lark and The Landing in Bala Cynwyd, Pennsylvania, voiced his displeasure on Instagram after the repentance. “The state of Pennsylvania and the city [of] Philadelphia in particular made it incredibly difficult to survive the last year, and that’s because of the people we choose to represent us, ”he wrote on June 17th in an Instagram campaign. “The communication was terrible. There was no top-down empathy. It’s a biased power game that doesn’t take consequences into account and I’m embarrassed about our city. „
Elmi noted to Eater that he generally avoids making politically charged statements on social media, but he didn’t feel like he could stay calm as Pennsylvania’s restaurants were being cornered. In addition to restrictions on take-away liquor, Pennsylvania restaurants that did not have permits for their outdoor dining spaces prior to the pandemic are no longer allowed to sell alcohol in the outdoor restaurants, which some have spent thousands of dollars to build. To do this, they have to apply for new permits now that the state of emergency is over (at least officially). „We’ve all gone through the process of getting permission to build outdoor restaurants and spent various amounts of money over the past year to keep our neighborhoods alive,” Elmi told Eater. „Then we are told without warning that we can continue to use our venues, we simply cannot sell beer, wine and cocktails in these structures, which will essentially cut sales in half, depending on the business model.” This would be difficult under any circumstances swallowing pill, but Elmi says the short-term announcement feels like an extra punch. „The fact that it is on us as ‘from today!’ has been dropped! without a relaxation phase or warning only shows the shortsightedness of our state officials, who vote strictly down, without thinking to themselves „How will this affect my voters?” … not only vote every four years, but also in their local elections . „
The Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board says it plans to smooth the rushed process for restaurateurs seeking permits. „We are working to speed up the transient Provalence,” said Shawn Kelly, press secretary for the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board. “… We know it’s important, that’s why we’re working on getting a temporary operating permit. We’re working on it. We’re getting some of them now. „
In states where to-go cocktails are prevalent but pre-pandemic laws were reintroduced, it’s a safe bet to the highly effective efforts of liquor store lobbyists seeking to curb competition that restaurants introduced during the pandemic. This as Luke Fortney from Eater NY writes, “Could explain how the legislation is supported by 78 percent of New Yorkers failed. „Fortney notes that at least 15 states have sold take-away alcohol permanent, but lobbying in New York has stalled legislation. Liquor store proponents argue that allowing restaurants to continue selling bottles of liquor and take-away cocktails is jeopardizing store profitability. „The liquor business was spending a lot of money falsely claiming that the world would end if we took alcohol out in restaurants,” said Steven Cymbrowitz, New York City Rep. 45 in a comment VinePair. It is still possible that New York lawmakers could pass a bill reintroducing to-go alcohol for restaurants. If that is possible, the liquor lobby is sure to stand up to it with all its weight.
Restaurant owners in cities where take-away alcohol is once again banned are trying to figure out how to sell their inventory, or in some cases are hoping to sell the rest of their supply without officials noticing. A year and a half ago, it would have been hard to imagine that favorite restaurants would hardly be recognizable and transformed into impressive wine shops and cocktail shop windows overnight. But this year has shown that – with tireless innovation and crisis management by owners and workers – a restaurant can grow even with the smallest of resources. In an ideal world, governments would see that many restaurants would still have to be markets and wine shops and casual liquor stores to get the minimum required to open up, bear what comes next, even if there is no warning.