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Glen Cove restaurants welcome more diners

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After a challenging year for Glen Cove restaurant owners, things are starting to look a little brighter. Last Friday, restrictions for restaurants in New York were eased from 50 percent to 75 percent capacity for indoor dining. On the heels of a difficult winter, the timing couldn’t be better, and restaurant owners are also looking forward to the upcoming outdoor dining season.

“It’s definitely a big help,” Fabrizio Zaino, co-owner of Jalisco, on School Street, said of the eased restrictions. “It will probably mean another three tables, which is about 10 to 12 people, and that’s a lot.”

The Mexican restaurant opened in September 2019, and being forced to close the dining room just six months later was a big challenge. “When they shut down indoor dining, that really hurt us,” Zaino said, “because we had just opened up.”

Over the past year, he said, the restaurant has relied on takeout business, and it has a back patio with nine tables, which was a big help over the summer. “We’ve been pivoting, but overall, we’ve been doing pretty good, all things considered,” Zaino said.

Elsa Valle, who owns Chef Moris Café, also on School Street, with her husband, Moris Valle, said she has encouraged customers to make reservations for indoor dining since last fall, because the restaurant fills to capacity quickly. It can only accommodate a handful of tables, and a large part of its business is takeout and delivery. “I’m feeling that, little by little, we’re going back to normal,” Valle said. “We’ll be able to serve a few more guests inside, and that’s great news for us.”

The café opened last July, seamlessly taking over a space previously occupied by Mar Le Café and even keeping the same core menu. Chef Moris also prepares daily dinner specials, and Elsa said that the restaurant had to extend its hours in order to accommodate customers wanting to dine in. “A lot of families want to have a good dinner, and it’s unpredictable,” she said, “but we have to be ready to take the calls and provide the service.”

Vito Marchese, owner of Vito’s Ristorante and Pizzeria, on Forest Avenue, said his restaurant would be able to add two more tables for eight diners. Vito’s follows safety protocols, with dividers between tables, bottles of hand sanitizer on each table and staff members wearing masks and gloves.

Demand for takeout and delivery has been consistent, and Marchese said that with the weather changing, allowing him to put tables outside, and more people getting Covid vaccinations, he was hopeful that he would see more business. “Everything should be pointing up,” he said.

Kent Monkan owns four restaurants on the North Shore, including the Heirloom Tavern, in Glen Head, and Brass Rail, in Locust Valley. Takeout helped save them over the winter, he said. Even with the eased restrictions, Monkan added, many people are still wary of eating inside. Heirloom Tavern has an outdoor patio, which opened two weeks ago and was filled on the first day.

Vaccinations would be crucial moving forward, he said, adding that he wanted to see life return to normal as soon as possible, with the struggles of the pandemic put in the past.

The winter months were challenging for La Bussola Ristorante, on School Street, as well. Owner Carlo Lubrano said that outdoor dining, which he had from June through mid-November, accounted for about 50 percent of his business. The new guidelines should help, he said, because he was already seeing an uptick in customers indoors.

“People who only ate outdoors for the past year are now coming in, since they’ve been fully vaccinated,” Lubrano said. “I can see a change already occurring, where people feel more comfortable to venture out and do things they weren’t doing over the last year.”

Last year, the City of Glen Cove closed part of School Street on weekend nights so restaurants could have tables outdoors, and Patricia Holman, executive director of the Glen Cove Business Improvement District, said she and city officials hope it will start when the weather is warmer.

"We want to start closing the streets again for diners once the weather is consistently warm," Holman said, "and it has been approved by the proper channels."

Mike Conn contributed to this story.