Summer gave restaurant patrons the chance to dine outdoors in relative safety. Many in Valley Stream took advantage of on-street dining after the village closed Rockaway Avenue to traffic in late June on weekend evenings.
The village, however, ended the program early last month, and with the winter months fast approaching, eateries in Valley Stream are bracing for what’s next.
At Mitchell’s Restaurant, Vicky Sourgoutsis, a member of the family of owners, thanked customers for their support through the pandemic. Because the diner has been forced to operate at 50 percent capacity, however, business has remained slow, she said, particularly on weekdays, and hours have had be to reduced.
On-street dining helped, Sourgoutsis said, although only marginally. “There wasn’t much improvement,” she said, “but it was nice for the community . . . It was nice for the summertime.”
The diner has been a staple on Rockaway Avenue for roughly 60 years, but without tents or heaters and only the sidewalk out front available for outdoor seating, tables outside are only offered on request if customers believe they can handle the weather.
Despite the difficulties posed by the pandemic, Sourgoutsis said, for now Mitchell’s will stay. “We’re trying,” she said. “Thank God we have good customers, loyal customers that come all the time. They know us, and we’ve known them for years.”
Few restaurants in the neighborhood likely benefited more from on-street dining than the Chicken Coop, also on Rockaway. Weekend evenings during the summer frequently saw large crowds seated at the array of tables placed outside.
Since then, however, business has slowed considerably, according to cashier Daniel Echeverry. The Colombian eatery still places about six tables outside with heaters — it was one of the first restaurants on Rockaway to take advantage of sidewalk dining —but he said there have been few takers.
“People don’t want to sit outside,” he said.
Despite that, delivery orders have picked up substantially since the summer, almost enough to offset losses, he said, and the restaurant has constructed plastic and wood dividers inside to put diners more at ease.
The Chicken Coop recently celebrated its 10th anniversary in Valley Stream. Despite the setbacks, Echeverry said the staff has tried to remain positive.
Without the benefit of on-street dining, restaurants elsewhere in Valley Stream have had to adapt to the pandemic in other ways.
At Meli Melo, across from the Gibson Train station on Dubois Avenue, the Haitian and Cajun restaurant has had to get creative to bring customers in. It closed during the initial months of the pandemic, according to manager Carl Latortue, until safety protocols became more concrete. The early months after reopening were difficult, he recounted, but there has been some turnaround.
“We’re blessed it’s picking up now,” he said.
Part of the success, he said, has been a variety of special events and activities that Meli Melo has scheduled during the daytime and evening weekend hours when it is open, such as sip-and-paints, brunches, games and guest chefs, as well as live and DJ music that is promoted on the restaurant’s Facebook and Instagram pages.
It’s been part of an effort to stay busy and give people things to do outside the house, while allowing the restaurant to control crowds. “We want to create more content to bring people out,” Latortue said.
“Where people feel safe and can come out with their families,” owner Judy Mezi said.