Showing posts with label East Village restaurants. Show all posts
Showing posts with label East Village restaurants. Show all posts

Tuesday, June 29, 2021

Help wanted: East Village restaurants look for staff, find few options

 Article and photos by Stacie Joy

When Sidney’s Five was preparing to open this spring on First Avenue, the owners of the café placed ads for waitstaff and kitchen help on Craigslist. 

The job search yielded just one reply for the back-of-house positions as opposed to the hundreds of responses the hospitality veterans may have received pre-pandemic. Meanwhile, only one person showed up to interview for a front-of-house slot. 

As East Village bars and restaurants move on from pandemic-era closures and dining-room restrictions, owners continue to face a dearth of available employees — yet another challenge in a tumultuous 15-month-plus period that saw sales plunge before the more recent uptick in business. However, some restaurateurs are having trouble meeting the demands with the lack of workers.

Even in casual conversations with owners and managers, I have been hearing “do you know anyone who may be interested in working?” for weeks now.
A search on Craigslist finds thousands of requests for front-of-house and kitchen staff in the city, and you can’t walk more than a block or two without spotting handmade signs in restaurant windows. (And this is not a local challenge. As The Wall Street Journal reported on Friday, restaurant and bar employment remains down by 1.5 million nationwide since the pandemic began.)

Several East Village hospitality business owners and hiring managers talked with me about their recent troubles finding staff, why they think there’s a problem, and their outlook on the future.

Multitasking to make do

At Sidney’s Five, the four partners — Kai Woo, Walker Chambliss, Edie Ugot and David Lowenstein — find themselves multitasking. Due to the staffing shortage, they are responsible for every job: washing dishes, bussing and cleaning tables, cooking meals — even snaking gutters.
The café is offering a scaled-back menu until they can fully staff the kitchen. The people they might usually hire, actors and performers earning extra money as waitstaff, left town when theater venues shut down, the owners said. Some other longtime bartenders and cooks opted for different careers during the hospitality downturn of 2020.

“Much of the industry staffing left New York during the pandemic, and it will take time for everyone to return,” Lowenstein said. “In addition, there may be another group who are still here but are afraid to return to work because they live with relatives who are vulnerable to COVID. This group may be waiting until there is a higher vaccination rate in the city.”

“And there is another group who can collect sufficient unemployment benefits until September ... so returning to work doesn't make financial sense," he continued. "Finally, workers who remained in their roles and are likely happy with their workplace and compensation because of how desperate employers are to staff up.”

Lowenstein wonders if some kind of government cash bonus or tax benefit would encourage people to return to work.

“I don’t support removing/reducing the unemployment benefits early, the way many governors are doing across the country,” he said. “I would support some positive encouragement, though. It might also help the situation if state or local government-subsidized wages for new hires to offer a competitive rate. As a new restaurant, it is more difficult for us to offer $25/hour to a line cook when we aren’t even taking wages ourselves yet.”

At Van Da, chef-owner Yen Ngo talked to me after a long night of cooking and running her well-regarded Vietnamese restaurant on Fourth Street. 

Ngo’s executive chef is pregnant, and she and her partner (who also worked as a Van Da chef) have left to stay with family. 

Since Ngo cannot find someone who specializes in Vietnamese cooking, she’s behind the burners whenever the space is open — five nights per week.
Ngo cited several reasons for the shortage of restaurant employees. 

“When the pandemic hit, most restaurant workers were laid off, some moved out of the city. Some have had the time to reflect at home and want a career change,” she said. 

At Van Da, 20 percent of the staff went back to school, while another 30 percent moved out of the city. 

“Restaurant work is hard and often unappreciated. It is easier to find front of the house now since the jobs are easier, and the pay is better than being cooks or preps,” Ngo said. “I wish all workers would get paid according to their skills rather than [relying on] tips. It’s complicated. Most people do not understand how broken the system is if they don't run or own restaurants.”

Ngo and other restaurant owners have experienced other shortages, including supplies, as well as higher costs. 

“Finding good products [is difficult]. There are shortages of good beef and pork, not to mention the huge increase in cost,” Ngo said. “Our beef and pork prices more than doubled.” 

Julio Peña, an owner of the Italian wine bar and restaurant Il Posto Accanto on Second Street, said they have always relied on word-of-mouth for waitstaff. For kitchen crews and bussers, they have used employment agencies. Neither source is turning up many candidates these days.

Between unemployment benefits and career changes (he said that many back-of-the-house workers are now in construction), Peña is left with few options. 

“There’s not much you can do…trim your hours of operation, ask customers to be patient, serve fewer people, and hope it works out,” he said.

Receiving fewer applicants

Ike Escava operates three outposts of The Bean in the neighborhood. At the coffee shop’s Third Avenue location, Escava talked about his experiences in barista pandemic staffing.
“It’s been a [hiring] challenge, although better lately. It was tough to find people who want to work. We have signs on the doors of all of our restaurants, advertisements on, and people can apply on our website,” Escava said. “We are getting fewer applicants…people don’t want to work if they are getting, say, $700 a week from the government not to work.”

In his opinion, the government should offer the $300/week PUA Cares Act to everyone, including those who have re-entered the workforce. 

“It would be an incentive to return to the workplace, and people would still get their extra $300 weekly,” he said.

A hiring manager at an upscale health-conscious restaurant, who wasn't authorized to speak on the record, discussed his difficulties finding staff.

“The most common statement I’ve heard over the past few months is ‘it’s because people are still receiving unemployment benefits.’ I do feel this is a factor. It is also a simplification of reality,” the hiring manager said. “The reality is that these industries, as rewarding as they can be, are not easy places to work. Folks who have spent their careers serving others have often felt underappreciated. What this past year has offered was a glimpse into what it would be like to pursue other desires and skills while maintaining a healthier work/life balance.” 

Being based in NYC, the hiring manager said we had the unique experience of the mass migration out of the city. 

“This is something we are seeing that’s changing,” he said. “It seems like every week there are more and more people moving back or to the city for the first time.”

And as for finding and hiring candidates, “We have started casting a much larger net. The first thing we did was to diversify where we are looking for candidates. I believe we have job postings on four or five sites currently. We have also adjusted experience requirements, job history, etc., which is tricky because we also want to maintain our level of service and experience.”

Being kind and understanding

At the Korean-American restaurant Nowon on Sixth Street, chef Jae Lee expounded on the difficulties in hiring.

“It’s a very touchy subject to point out the reason why but let's speak about what the operators noticed. When unemployment benefits were to end last year, we saw an uptick on many back-of-house and front-of-house professionals applying for positions,” Lee said. “When the unemployment benefits continued, the applicants were no longer there. Every operator says the same thing; they are short-staffed, and it feels almost impossible to hire anyone.”

Regarding candidates, “We have posted ads on culinary agents and have boosted posts, which honestly did nothing to bring in more applicants. We also tried to hire through word-of-mouth, which didn’t work either.”

“We were able to hire two new front-of-house support staff who are college students,” he continued. “We are hiring green candidates who we can mold rather than hiring experienced professionals who don’t need much training.”

Lee closed our conversation with a sentiment I’ve heard from almost everyone interviewed for this story.

“Please be kind and understanding while restaurants and bars are trying their absolute best to make it work,” he said. “Please be nice to the staff who chose to come into work to serve and cook for you. We know we have work to do, and we are diligently working hard to get there.” 

Friday, October 2, 2020

A new era for indoor dining in the East Village


Photos by Stacie Joy

Wednesday marked the beginning of indoor dining at the state-mandated 25-percent capacity... about 175 days after the PAUSE order went into effect in March.

EVG contributor Stacie Joy visited 14 East Village restaurants early in the evening as the dinner hour was getting underway to see how places were creatively using their spaces to provide safe service for both patrons and their staffs.

Being such a nice fall night out on Wednesday, many diners stayed in the comforts of the curbside or sidewalk spaces. Other loyal and intrepid diners went right inside. Not everyone is ready for indoor dining. And not every restaurant is ready to resume service inside. 

Some observations from Stacie: Air purifiers were everywhere. Temp checks at the door. Contact tracing for every table (or every diner, depending on where you went). Some places had a handheld scanner for temps, others had ones mounted on the wall. 

Here's a look... (the names and info for each restaurant is at the end of the post...)


[Il Posto Accanto]

[Mary at Mary O's]



[John's of 12th Street]


[Jack at Takahachi]




[Divya's Kitchen]

[Bin 141]

Here's the list of restaurants — in alphabetical order — that Stacie visited:

→ Bin 141, 43 Avenue A

→ Divya’s Kitchen, 25 First Ave. 

→ Hearth, 403 East 12th St. 

→ Il Posto Accanto, 190 E. Second St. 

→ John’s of 12th Street, 302 East 12th St.

→ Lavagna, 545 East Fifth St.

→ Lucien, 14 First Ave.

→ Mary O’s, 32 Avenue A 

→ Mokyo, 109 St. Mark’s Place 

→ Nowon, 507 East Sixth St. 

→ Pangea, 178 Second Ave. 

→ Takahachi, 85 Avenue A 

→ Tuome, 536 East Fifth St.

→ Veselka, 144 Second Ave. 

Said Stacie: "I was grateful to every owner who let me in and allowed me to take pics. Every place I went to was accommodating and unfailingly polite. The hospitality was nice."

Thursday, June 25, 2020

A second look at Phase II dining in the East Village

[Casa Adela, Avenue C]

Phase 2 is in full swing, with bars and restaurants with the proper permits OK'd to serve food and drinks on newly created sidewalk and street spaces. (Dining inside is still off limits.)

We looked at a few of the outdoor dining options Tuesday... EVG contributor Stacie Joy checked out more of the newly deputized open spaces around the neighborhood, from cafes adding a table or two out front to artificial turf on the street ...

[Lavagna, 5th Street]

[Nowon, 6th Street]

[B&H Dairy, 2nd Avenue]

[Kafana, Avenue C]

[Takahachi, Avenue A]

[Lower East Side Coffee Shop, 14th Street]

[Khiladi, Avenue B at 11th Street]

[Il Posto Accanto, 2nd Street]

[Cortadito, 3rd Street]

[Supper, 2nd Street]

[KC Gourmet Empanadas, Avenue B]

[Hibachi Express Dumplings, 14th Street]

[Au Za’atar, Avenue A at 12th Street]

[San Loco, Avenue C]

[Buenos Aires, 6th Street]

[Gnocco, above and below, 10th Street]

[C&B Cafe, 7th Street]

[Westville East, Avenue A at 11th Street]

[Desi Galli, Avenue B]

[Lil' Frankie's, 1st Avenue]

[Veselka, 2nd Avenue at 9th Street]

Tuesday, June 23, 2020

Phase II dining, here we go

[Photo at Tallgrass Burger on 1st Avenue by Sonya]

Phase 2 commenced yesterday, and with that, bars and restaurants with permits for Phase 2 open space are now OK to serve food and drinks on newly created sidewalk, and in some cases, street spaces. (No indoor dining yet!)

As Gothamist reported, as of yesterday morning, there have been 3,192 applicants for additional Phase 2 outdoor space, per the Mayor's Office and city's Department of Transportation.

Here's a sampling of East Village establishments and what they're doing to make outdoor dining available... there are tables in the parking spaces adjacent to the bike lane and roadway on Second Avenue between Fifth Street and Sixth Street outside Local 92 and Frank... via EVG regular Lola Saénz...

[Tarallucci e Vino, 1st Avenue at 10th Street]

[Tatsu Ramen, 1st Avenue]

... these photos are all from Steven...

[Miss Lily's, 7th and A]

[Mudspot Café, 9th Street]

[Kitchen Sink, 5th Street at 2nd Avenue]

[St. Dymphna's, Avenue A]

[Tacos Cuautla Morelos, 9th Street]

Elsewhere... Lucien has a few socially distant tables here on First Avenue ...

... and Rosie's on Second Avenue at Second Street already had ample outdoor space...

... and on Second Street between Avenue A and Avenue B, Il Posto Accanto has sidewalk and curb seating...

[Via @ilpostoaccanto]

We'll have an update later this week as more restaurants get their outdoor seating together...

The city released guidelines (document here) for safely dining out ... here's a recap via Grub Street:

Customers themselves are advised to limit their exposure by making reservations in advance and looking at menus online, practice social distancing and hand hygiene; to also wear coverings; and stay home if they are either sick or vulnerable to the coronavirus. The guidelines don’t account for how these rules will be enforced across the city, and there is the issue of whether customers and business owners actually comply.

And check out Eater's explainer on Phase 2 dining here.