The nights are dark and full of terror for restaurateurs who are already suffering from the coronavirus and struggling to stay on a par or open new locations.
That’s because unbridled crime and rampant homelessness are forcing them to close early or spend extra money on security to keep their customers safe, according to interviews with several Big Apple restaurants.
Veteran restaurateur and nightclub producer Richie Romero told Side Dish he had to hire a security guard until 4 a.m. on weekends at his Lower East Side restaurant Zazzy’s Pizza.
“I’ve been exposed to gatherings on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays, but I have to close early, at 11pm, during the week because people are afraid to go out at night,” said Romero, who also owns Zazzy locations in West Village. The Upper East Side, along with Yesterday’s Innocent Restaurant in the Village.
“Criminals are patrolling the streets,” he added. “I live in West Village and even worse there. It’s desolate at night, just homeless people and strangers walking around.”
Stratis Morphogene – of Brooklyn Chop House and Brooklyn Dumpling Shop – also said the West Village is “out of control.”
He described a horror show where drug dealers spread out in reclining seats in front of closed stores, asking people walking by if they wanted cocaine, ecstasy and marijuana.
“This is the heart of New York City and the residences of New York University. Where is the NYPD to protect students and small business owners? ’” Morfogen said, adding that the graffiti was “wall to wall.”
“There is not an inch of the neighborhood that is not tagged,” he said. “We complain to the NYPD and they do nothing, and if they do something, the criminals will come back the next day. There is no real solution. It took eight years to screw it up and it will take more than a few months to fix the problem but it needs to be addressed because we are losing our community.”
Morfogen signed a lease during the pandemic in 2020 to open Pappas Taverna, a wood-fired Greek restaurant at 103-105 Macdougal St. With Chef Peter Spryopoulos, formerly of Milos and Avra.
It was scheduled to open last fall but the opening has been delayed. At first, there were the usual objections, from building permits to supply chain issues related to the pandemic, but crime hampered things further.
“We were broken into twice,” Morfogen said, adding that the thieves walked out with $20,000 worth of construction equipment that had been locked inside the restaurant. He now hopes to open by the end of summer.
According to the NYPD, overall arrests rose 44.6%, from 597 to 863, in District Six, which covers Greenwich Village.
“The problem is we don’t have enough police and McDougall Street is very tough,” said Barry Dulac, of the Mineta Lane Street Association and former owner of La Boheme restaurant in Mineta Lane.
Dolac said that prior to COVID there were monthly community meetings at a local church attended by local police and politicians, but the meetings ended during the pandemic.
A NYPD spokesperson said the meetings are now taking place virtually and will return to an in-person presence soon, but did not say when.
The problem is not limited to the village.
One Lower East Side bar owner, who did not want to be named, said he also needs to hire a third-party security company to keep vagrants away from his customers.
“The drug dealers and beggars are very aggressive,” he said. “I have a homeless camp outside on my slope.”
Gupshup owner Jimmy Rizvi, and Chote Miya, which is currently in Dumbo and opens in Chelsea Market next week, says Union Square Gupshup has been split up three times — and that homeless and drug users are shooting in their outdoor shack, leaving behind used syringes.
There is certainly a rise in crime and homelessness. We didn’t see this before the pandemic. We need stricter laws and police. The police tell us that unless it’s a big deal, they won’t even show up. “They are very understaffed,” said Rizvi.