The arrival of the Omicron variant in New York this winter threatened the survival of restaurants that were already battered by the pandemic.
The streets emptied in December as cold weather set in and fear again gripped the city. Virus case counts were exploding, and, at one restaurant we followed for three months this winter, Saigon Social, dine-in business fell to a trickle.
Saigon Social, a Vietnamese restaurant on the Lower East Side, has only ever existed in pandemic-era limbo. Its owner, Helen Nguyen, opened the restaurant two years ago to labor shortages, supply chain snarls and sudden shutdowns. She has had to play every role in the restaurant, all while running around the city to track down ingredients, containers and condiments.
“I slept at the restaurant every night that first month because I was so depressed,” Ms. Nguyen said.
New York is a restaurant city, and Ms. Nguyen has been a rising star in it. She spent years working for the acclaimed chef Daniel Boulud. She has participated in the prestigious Bocuse d’Or cooking contest in France, and has made regular TV appearances on the Food Network and Vice’s Munchies. Saigon Social is her first restaurant on her own.
But running a food business in New York means operating on extremely thin margins, and sometimes the smallest disruptions can be the difference between winning acclaim and closing for good.
This winter, Ms. Nguyen had to figure out how to keep cash flowing while her dining room was closed and staff tested positive for the virus. She bartered for tests with alcohol, and reinstated masking rules inside the restaurant. On top of that, she navigated racial violence in a neighborhood that is home to a large Asian diaspora.
Source: NY Times