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The body blows just keep on coming for Hell’s Kitchen restaurateurs. Yesterday, a number of 9th Avenue businesses were given notice to dismantle their side street outdoor dining sheds by June 20, or face a hefty fine. Meanwhile, the Senate finally pulled the plug on replenishing the beleaguered Restaurant Replenishment Fund (RRF). 

Amália Sarmiento of Arriba Arriba will have to remove her outdoor dining shed on W51st Street. Photo: Phil O’Brien

Amália Sarmiento of Arriba Arriba had to dismantle her 9th Avenue shed back in early May — and yesterday was told to remove her outdoor dining on the side street. The exterior of the eatery is already covered in scaffolding, which Sarmiento fears will only further deter diners. 

“I understand if the City of New York says, ‘it’s time for everybody to take them down,’ and gives us at least a bit of time in advance for us to prepare and move. But it’s so fast — they say ‘oh, on this day BOOM!’,” she said. 

Sarmiento also applied for funding in the first round of RRF. “It was like a contest. A lot of people got millions,” she said. “I was sitting at the computer at 11am as soon as it opened and had all of my paperwork ready — but never got anything.” 

Arriba Arriba is covered with scaffolding — and now has to remove its outdoor dining shed on the side street. Photo: Phil O’Brien

The Department of Transportation (DOT) and Department of Design and Construction (DDC) have implemented a new phase of 9th Avenue construction to install and repair water mains in Northern Hell’s Kitchen along with sidewalk expansion and pedestrian improvements. Despite outcry over the summer-months-timing, 9th Avenue business owners affected by the mandate dutifully removed the structures, with some restaurateurs counting themselves lucky to have some locations unaffected. This peace of mind would be short-lived, however.   

“It’s one thing after another, every day,” said Sean Hayden, owner and partner at Alfie’s and Jasper’s Taphouse and Kitchen on 9th Avenue, who was handed a letter from the DOT and DDC that their previously allowed dining sheds must be dismantled by June 20 or face a fine.  “It’s always against you, against you, against you. There’s nobody ever fighting for the good in the neighborhood.”

“This is my third restaurant that is being affected,” said Dorian Gashi, owner of Medi, Blue Seafood, and Giardino 54. Having already removed the sheds at Medi and Blue Seafood, Gashi hopes that Giardino 54 — set away from 9th Avenue on the side street — will be spared. 

Outdoor dining at Giardino 54 is under threat. Photo: Phil O’Brien

“During the Manhattan Community Board 4 meeting last month, the DOT, the head engineer, the head of this construction project, and the PR representative were present. I specifically asked which side streets would be affected — first, they said, no. Then they said, ‘Yes, the side streets will be included,’ and that increased the number of restaurants affected from 25 into 37,” said Gashi. He was told that restaurants on the side streets further than 50 feet from the avenue would be exempt. 

“Immediately after the board meeting was over, I measured the distance from the Ninth Avenue sidewalk to my shed. It’s 60 feet. We are talking about a 10-foot difference. Now, today we were served with a notification from the DOT commissioner that the Open Restaurant program is terminated. Where do we stand? Does their word count for anything?” he said. 

Mayor Adams, responding to the controversy over the 9th Avenue shed closures, said in a press conference: “We’re telling those on 9th Avenue, hold on, they’re coming back. We know it was a real boost for the economy. It helped our restaurants. It kept them afloat.”  

Alfie’s had to dismantle its outdoor dining on 9th Avenue — and is now being told to take down the shed on the side street. Photo: Phil O’Brien

Hayden said that the city’s stance on support for dining sheds was, at best, confusing. “You have the mayor coming on TV and saying he’s not going to touch these structures, he’s going to give the restaurant people time to get their money back after the pandemic and try and pay whatever they’re in arrears — but then you’ve got the DOT doing this construction,” he said. 

City Council Member Erik Bottcher said of the situation: “My office has reached out to the responsible city agencies and the mayor’s office to ensure that these small businesses have every available resource at their disposal. We need to change the government culture from ‘This is what we’re doing, deal with it’ to ‘How can we help you during this difficult time?’”

A representative from the DDC confirmed that the expanded reach was part of its original Ninth Avenue water main and roadway improvement project. W42ST reached out to the DOT, City, and the Mayor’s office for comment and has yet to receive a response. 

Beyond the city limits, additional hurdles lay ahead for restaurateurs hoping for a new round of federal support from the RRF. The Small Business COVID Relief Act of 2022 proposed by Senators. Ben Cardin (D-MD) and Roger Wicker (R-MS), included $40 billion for RRF replenishment. While the House passed the measure, conflict between parties in the Senate over the method of fund allocation led to the bill being left behind. 

A copy of the letter delivered yesterday to Hell’s Kitchen restaurants around 9th Avenue.

The first round of the RRF — distributed for three weeks in 2021 before running out — left over two-thirds of applicants, including many Hell’s Kitchen eateries, out in the cold. 

“This is devastating for us and the two-thirds of RRF applicants who didn’t get a dime in the initial, ridiculously managed first round,” said Corey Samuels of Kashkaval Garden. “The City took away our outdoor seating May 1 and today we received this horrible news. What a month! How are we supposed to compete with our neighbors who have been able to use their RRF grant to cover rent and payroll this past year? Be prepared to see a lot of shuttered restaurants over the next few months!”

One Hell’s Kitchen bar owner, who asked to remain anonymous until he has a chance to tell his staff, said that the Senate ruling was “a death sentence” for his business. “It’s a shame that the city, state and feds can’t come together to help us. It’s actually been my landlord who has been the most understanding during the pandemic! I called my lawyer to start the work to close. I feel bad for my staff, my customers and my wife,” he said. 

Corey Samuels was forced to take down his 9th Avenue outdoor dining and received no RRF funding. Photo: Phil O’Brien

“The state closed me down for 231 days. In March, my electricity bill was $6,000. That’s the highest it has been in 12 years, even in August when the air-conditioning is blasting. It’s impossible!”  The owner predicted that their bar would close by the end of June.

“I blame the way it was structured in the first place,” said Hayden. “If they had split the money evenly, the 29 billion that was given into the fund originally and maybe give everybody a couple of hundred thousand to get them by — but to give some guys $5 million and to give the guy next door nothing —  it’s insane.” 

“I’m speechless. Those senators who voted the RRF down can drop dead as far as I’m concerned,” said Steve Olsen of West Bank Cafe. “Small businesses around our country don’t have a chance of surviving.”

Pat Hughes, of Scruffy Duffy’s and Hellcat Annie’s told W42ST: “I’m not surprised. If you put the government in charge of pretty much ANYTHING, they’ll screw it up. The RRF was mismanaged and discriminatorily distributed from the get-go — this will be the final curtain for many of the businesses that survived until now.” 

Jim Lahey from Sullivan Street Bakery said: “It was sloppy and hastily put together. The distribution of funds only ‘rescued’ a select few. We applied immediately and our application never saw the light of day. Perhaps everyone should have gotten a little rather than creating inequities — because some food businesses received lots of money and others got nothing.”

“Many corporations made record profits during the pandemic while small businesses like restaurants try to still get back on our feet.
Taxing these corporations at a higher rate could have helped fund the RRF. Specifically, New York City (and Times Square/Hell’s Kitchen) was probably the hardest hit area of the country by COVID. We were at many times in the last two years restricted from running our business because of COVID and regulations,” said Jeffrey LaPadula from PS Kitchen. “RRF would have been amazing for PS Kitchen, but we will survive nonetheless.”

The outdoor dining shed at El Centro is one of the side street structures the DOT wants to remove. Photo: Phil O’Brien

Bryan Ware from Fresh from Hell said: “We applied for the RRF grant to help our small business, but it’s been in review for months, and now it says the program is over.  This program would assist us to get back on our feet after COVID.”

Back at Alfie’s, Hayden expressed his frustration that bar and restaurant owners, vital to the economic landscape of the city, were being pulled in every direction by city agencies.

“It’s like you’re under their thumb, whatever they say you do — that’s it. And what I’d say to these elected officials is —  we employ 120 people between 9th Avenue and 45th Street. We’ve been on the Avenue for 20 years — we donate to the schools, precincts, we hire people from the neighborhood. Not one official in 20 years has ever come near the door — only when they’re looking to get somebody’s vote,” he said.  “You wouldn’t even believe the amount of money I’m paying in sales tax every week — never mind labor tax. Everything is through the roof. They should be encouraging people like me to stay open, not trying to close me every day.”

Alfie’s will lose their outdoor dining shed on W53rd Street if the DOT enforces their letter. Photo: Phil O’Brien

Despite the dire straits, Hayden, like many 9th Avenue business owners, remains determined to survive. “We’re resilient, and we’re in better shape than most, where we’re kind of busy,” he said. “It’s just that some days you feel like you wouldn’t want to get out of bed. First thing this morning it’s the RFF, then more sheds down. It’s one thing after another, every day.”

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11 Comments

  1. It sucks. I get it — but, this is for the greater good of the community. Shame on the city for the poor communication 1,000%, and sorry to the businesses, but there’s a greater good here that as a native to the neighborhood, I have to also 1,000% support.

  2. Personally I hate the sheds, mostly they are ugly structures but in terms of pedestrian traffic unsatisfactory because in Hell’s Kitchen the sidewalks are narrow and always crowded. As for the Avenues and side streets that are jammed with cars and all matter of vehicles blowing their horns constantly because traffic is not moving due to construction and the sheds that take up precious road space.

  3. I have lives in NYC for over 15 years. I think the sheds have made the city look like a 3rd world country. I get that restaurants are trying to recoup their losses from the pandemic, but they have already increased prices and lowered their service/ staff. I think they need to get rid of the sheds now. It’s ugly and causes congestion in the streets and sidewalks. Sad how the city looks worse today than 3 years ago.

  4. The sheds have added a much needed outdoor boost to both safety and ambiance of restaurants in the Hell’s Kitchen. All comments here focus on letting cars flow more freely through the streets. The neighborhood is already a standing traffic, honking hellhole and we want to encourage more of the car morons to “flow” into the neighborhood. The outdoor dining was amazing. Now it’s back to parked cars and trash accumulating in the curb. What a shortsighted disaster this city is.

  5. I absolutely hate those sheds. I watch everyday as street sweepers just totally bypass streets now bc they cant get by. Leaving complete garbage by the curb where rats feast. I talk to FDNY who say response time is affected bc they sit in traffic and nobody can move thier car to the side to let the truck or ambulance through. Now that some are taken down it’s like a weight lifted just like when the scaffolding on your block is finally taken down. More sun…less junk. It just feels so much better on a street! But I feel awful for those business owners. Absolute disgrace that they were not supported better and that funding should have been split evenly! Hayden is right. Those politicians only stop by when they want your vote and could care less about you once in office.

  6. I hate the sheds too. I see rats crawling under them and garbage piled up on the sides of them. Filthy and disgusting. They are an eye sore. I hope they never come back.

  7. As Covid levels rise again, outdoor dining also becomes more important, for the health of businesses, their employees, and their patrons. Road space is indeed precious, which is why we must not turn it back over to a bunch of cars from New Jersey. Outdoor dining does not cause congestion—cars do.

  8. Good riddance. Those sheds are an eye sore as they get pretty ugly from the weather, cars/busses and good old day to day NYC filth.

  9. Sheds gotta go. It’s time ..was always temporary. And hey @Blue maybe you’ll get more customers if you stop charging $50 for a branzino?

  10. The sheds aside. There cost to do business is a bigger issue. The neighborhood and city as a whole without small business and restaurants will suffer. Tax incentives for film and Wall Street, why not for this industry? We will all benefit from more business than none…

  11. This piece seems less like an objective news article and more like a straight PR piece for the restaurants and bars. I agree with many of the above comments-the term sheds is being kind. Most of these unsightly structures are hastily constructed shacks, which are supposed to be TEMPORARY!

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