Despite indoor dining ban, Israeli restaurant owners in NY optimistic

“We invested in special heating lamps to offer patrons a chance to eat outside in healthy conditions despite the snow,” an Israeli owner told the 'Post'.

Inna Mashiach, the owner of Brooklyn-based Reunion (photo credit: Courtesy)
Inna Mashiach, the owner of Brooklyn-based Reunion
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Although New York Governor Andrew Cuomo ordered New York City indoor dining to come to a halt on Monday for at least two weeks, most Israeli restaurant owners in the city are optimistic about their establishments staying viable and reopening, once the COVID-19 pandemic is over.
Some 93% of those polled in a new study released by the New York Israel Business Alliance (NYIBA) think that they will weather the pandemic, but more than three-fourths (77%) said they need to offer indoor dining to stay in business.
For Inna Mashiach, the owner of Brooklyn-based Reunion, closing down during the novel coronavirus crisis was never an option.
“We invested in special heating lamps to offer patrons a chance to eat outside in healthy conditions despite the snow,” she told The Jerusalem Post.
“As newcomers to America, my husband and I don’t have the option of shutting down. We don’t have family here or a security net to fall back on. We did everything we can to remain open during these hard times.”
Working in the food business since she was a teenager, Mashiach and her husband opened the restaurant in 2014 after her father provided the initial investment. “How could I close and let him down like that?” she joked.
The decision to shut down indoor dining would prove to be “the last straw” for many city restaurants and jobs, warned NYC Hospitality Alliance Executive Director Andrew Rigie.
Manhattan, he pointed out, has a positivity rate of 2.7%, far less than other counties in the state that still permit indoor eating options.
Restaurants in NYC were linked to 1.4% of cases of infection. In comparison, living rooms account for 74% of sources of infection, ABC reported.
Among the Israeli-owned establishments, some 70% were forced to let workers go during the past year.  Half argued that more aid is needed to save the food industry, and 35% pointed to the expected return of tourists and regular office hours as the two factors which could save the industry.
THE SURGE of Israeli start-ups relocating to NYC led to unprecedented interest in Israeli foods, NYIBA president Aaron Kaplowitz told the Post. The study found 173 Israeli-owned restaurants in the state, of which 30 owners participated in the survey.
Kaplowitz pointed out that the factor of serving the community came in second place (23.3%) after the issue of making enough money to secure the business (53.3%). The value of community was clearly noted by two-thirds of the responding owners, who said local residents had been helpful to them in the last nine months.
“In some Jewish communities, they arranged for those offering kosher food to sell during specific times,” he said. “This is excellent for those who keep kosher and, for whatever reason, were not able to leave the house to buy products or eat out. It was also wonderful for business owners who wanted to increase sales.” Kaplowitz added that kosher food deliveries went up in several Jewish communities in the state.
When asked if they got any help from the federal government, some 93% said that they took a Paycheck Protection Program. However, only half thought the government had been clear concerning its COVID-19 guidelines. Most (56.7%) did not take an Economic Injury Disaster Loan.
While New Yorkers are already familiar with some Israel-associated foods – such as hummus and falafel – they are now able to enjoy more exotic Ethiopian-Israeli foods served at Harlem’s Tsion Café, or relish a hot shakshuka during winter at Brooklyn’s Reunion restaurant.
Israeli-owned does not necessarily mean kosher, nor just a bagel- or pita-based meal. New Orleans-inspired restaurant 1803, for example, is owned by Israeli chef Rafi Hasid. Vietnamese eatery Bricolage is also Israeli-owned.
BEEJHY BARHANY, owner of the Tsion Café, offers a blend of Ethiopian dishes, Yemeni malawah, and even Nigerian Jollof rice.
Merging both Ethiopian and Israeli cultural heritage, Barhany is deeply connected to the unique legacy Harlem has to offer, and has been serving her local community for the past six years by offering healthy and tasty eating options.
In a video released on social media, she shares how honored she is to be working in the same location as Jimmy’s Chicken Shack, an eatery that served jazz giants as well as Malcolm X and comedian Redd Foxx.
“We ask for your support and help,” she says. “We’ve been here for six years – we want to be here for at least another six!”
“Overall the response was positive,” she told the Post. “People are having a hard time right now so everything given is greatly appreciated. Those who can’t offer money ask if there’s a way they can offer other kinds of help. We’ve been giving back to the local community by offering free meals to essential workers and anyone who might be in need.”
“You have to persevere to survive in this business,” she said. “Immigrants contribute a lot to the food business and the diversity of New York; we’re happy to be a part of that.”
Seeking feedback from the owners, Kaplowitz received a wealth of insights into how the food industry hustled to keep working during these hard times.
“We identified that many of our guests are cooking at home,” one owner said, “so we are selling the fresh products we make to implement into the home dining experiences.”
Others lowered prices or offered family-friendly options for those who stay home with children due to closed schools. While all agreed that money would be welcome to keep their restaurants going, they also confessed that they are always seeking good office workers – or just hoping for pleasant weather to put people back outdoors looking around for a tasty takeout option.