ASTORIA – The closure of restaurants since March has caused huge financial problems for many restaurants that are in dire financial straits. Several Greek-owned businesses were forced to shut down while others are struggling to survive. The restaurants in New York remain closed in terms of indoor dining and according to the owners there is no hope – for the time being at least – of opening until the end of the year.
Recently, representatives of the New Jersey-based restaurant organization PanGregorian, along with representatives of other states, spoke by teleconference with Senator Robert Menendez in an effort to find a solution to save their businesses.
Harry Mihas and James Logothetis from the PanGregorian of New Jersey, Dimitrios Kafhitsas of Pan Gregorian of Metro New York and Long Island, Sakis Tyrnas of Pan Gregorian of Upper New York, Chris Scabardonis of Pan Gregorian of New England, Nick Apostolopoulos of Pan Gregorian of the Carolinas and John Zoulis of Pan Gregorian Enterprises of Maryland, Inc. were among those who met with Sen. Menendez, whom they thanked for what he has done so far for them. At the same time, however, they stressed that more efforts are needed to cope financially and enable their businesses to survive.
The entrepreneurs' proposals focused on the need for benefits, especially for small businesses, as well as tax breaks.
Sen. Menendez thanked the Greek-American entrepreneurs and noted that the government is committed to providing financial assistance, while emphasizing the family businesses that are most threatened and should be supported.
Nikos Bardis, treasurer of PanGregorian Metro New York and Long Island, spoke with The National Herald about the major crisis in the catering industry, and said that meetings with politicians, Greek-American and non-Greek, had not yet yielded results.
"Unfortunately, restaurants are going through one of the biggest crises in history. Many families make a living from one restaurant. People are on the streets, they do not know what will happen tomorrow," said Bardis, adding that the loans given as aid were not enough. "The loans taken out by the owners are gone. We no longer have help and support from anyone."
He continued, "We are living in a terrible economic crisis, we see no help from the mayor or the governor in New York. We tried to meet with them but unfortunately, our requests fell on deaf ears. We will proceed with further actions if we do not see some light at the end of the tunnel. We’re trying to figure something out, to get them to tell us what they can do for us. Tables outside are not enough. And in a short time winter will be here, what will happen then?"
Businessman and Pangregorian North and South Carolina President Nick Apostolopoulos referred to the problems faced by Greek-owned companies, pointing out that "the issue is very serious, more than it seems. Businesses have not returned to where they were before and it will take a long time.”
“What is certain is that Greek companies are more resilient and that is why Greeks bring the family into the business. A good household will help them overcome the crisis,” added Apostolopoulos.
As he explained, older people find it difficult to trust to go out and eat at a restaurant, although several restaurants are operating with indoor seating at 25% or 50% capacity depending on the space.
"For some, the mask is not enough, the social distancing is not enough. Older people will be slow to have the confidence to go out. Many have already placed Plexiglas between the tables so that the customer feels safe," he told TNH.
Apostolopoulos also referred to the assistance given by the government, emphasizing that "on the one hand it helped the people but it was not distributed in the right way. They had to be given some measures to motivate the employee to return to work. Many do not want to go back to work."
Finally, Apostolopoulos said that the Greek owners will be able to survive. "The owners emphasize the customer, they welcome him. The hospitality of the Greek, the good service, make us different from the other businesspeople."
Kostas Malonoukos is the owner of the Van Dam diner in Long Island City and told TNH, "I have five months to bring home a dollar. Restaurants are the third largest economic power in New York. Something has to be done."
He himself spoke about the opening of cinemas and gyms. As he stated, "if it is for the good of humanity, in order for the pandemic to disappear, we should close, but everyone should close. Gyms, cinemas are reopening… By what logic do we remain closed? There is no plan to reopen. How will we pay the rent, the loans? Especially those that opened 1-2 years ago?”
He called on the entire Greek community and the Greek-owned restaurants to act, "to join Pangregorian and the Restaurant Association for a meeting and all together to organize a demonstration and seek a meeting with the mayor. We ask to work in order to survive, we are not asking for our rents or loans to be reduced," added Malonoukos.