Starting last Friday, maximum capacity for indoor dining rose to 75 percent in Nassau County. For restaurants in Wantagh and Seaford, this meant not having to turn away as many customers and, for some, cutting the tape that for months has closed off certain tables and dining sections.
As restrictions continue to lift, restaurant owners spoke with the Herald about their experiences with capacity limits and what they hope to see in the coming months.
“We were pretty excited, first off,” said Abraham Lahood, the manager of Dang BBQ in Seaford, which opened three months before the pandemic began last March. “We’ve gotten about 10 more seats in the restaurant, which has allowed us to hire more staff and just overall benefit the whole restaurant. This past Saturday [we] felt like a real restaurant again, to be honest.”
Lahood added that more employees are getting inoculated, and that’s helping the restaurant avoid the scheduling conflicts and “staffing nightmares” that arise when someone is exposed to Covid-19 and has to quarantine.
“You know, we’ve gotten through it,” he said. “We have a really strong team and a lot of people that really worked through this time despite the risks.”
Jerry Pagoulatos, the owner of Sunrise Diner in Wantagh, was optimistic that the increase in allowable capacity would help the Long Island restaurant industry recover. However, he said he hopes outdoor dining doesn’t go away as capacity requirements are lifted.
“A lot of our customers are requesting it, and still feel more comfortable with the outdoor dining,” Pagoulatos said. “. . . A lot of other countries and a lot of areas make it work.”
Juan Romero, the manager of Margarita’s Café in Wantagh, said the increase in capacity would be a huge help, because there have been many days on which the restaurant had to turn people away because of the 50 percent capacity limit.
“[We’ve had] some tough months, because there’s a lot of regulations required for customers and employees,” Romero said. “Summertime is good, because we have a permit to use part of the parking lot for the patio, and it helps us.”
The increase in capacity proved beneficial for restaurants like Bunker Hill American Taproom in Wantagh, which drew a crowd on the first night of the new requirements. “We called before coming just to make sure they had space, and I’m so glad they did,” said Lauren Volpe, 25, of Seaford. “This is my favorite place to come and just relax with friends on a Friday night.”
Plastic dividers separated every five patrons at the bar, where Volpe sat with three others. Most of the tables were also filled as the restaurant neared 75 percent capacity.
The announcement of the increase came at the one-year anniversary of Nassau County Executive Laura Curran joining government officials across the country in declaring a state of emergency as the pandemic spread.
“Each day since then we’ve had no choice but to persevere through what has become a defining year in our lives,” Curran said in a statement coinciding with the announcement. “Today, however, I can say with confidence that the light at the end of the tunnel is getting closer and brighter.”
According to Curran, Covid-19 hospitalizations in Nassau County have dropped by about 51 percent since mid-January. ICU admissions have declined by around 46 percent, and roughly 26 percent of county residents have received at least one dose of a vaccine.