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NYC restaurants prepare for the return of indoor dining

Yahoo Finance’s Kristin Myers along with James Tracey, Isabelle's Osteria chef and partner, and Michael Schatzberg, Isabelle's Osteria operating partner, discuss the pandemic impact on the restaurant industry.

Video Transcript

KRISTIN MYERS: Welcome back to Yahoo Finance Live. Now indoor dining is being allowed again here in New York, which raises some concerns, given the mutations and strains of the virus that are running rampant. We're joined now by the folks from Isabelle's Osteria-- James Tracey, chef and partner, and Michael Schatzberg, operating partner. Thank you both for joining us today.

MICHAEL SCHATZBERG: Thank you.

KRISTIN MYERS: I'm wondering what it's like-- let's start with you, Michael. What has it been like operating and really just trying to stay afloat during this pandemic?

MICHAEL SCHATZBERG: Well, thanks. It hasn't been easy at all. We're super excited about opening for 25% today. We just got additional great news from the governor that we will be able to open until 11:00 PM. That's wonderful news. It's been a challenge, but in the restaurant space, we've always been-- health and hygiene have always been on the top of our minds well before the pandemic. So we've always been positioned to handle this type of thing. And we're just super excited to be open right now and looking forward to building this business and continuing to build.

The New Yorkers have been amazing during all this. They have been sitting outside in below freezing temperatures. My hat's off to them. They are supporting the restaurants and all the employees that go with it. So it's just been incredible. New Yorkers are amazing, and we thank them. And I know that everyone can't wait to get inside.

KRISTIN MYERS: I was one of those diners that sat outside after the snowstorm. I thought it was half crazy myself that I was doing it, but I really wanted to have a meal that I didn't have to cook for once. So James, I want to ask you about this. How important and how critical is opening indoor dining, you know, to the survival of your business, but also, you know, the restaurants of other folks that you're chatting with?

JAMES TRACEY: Well, I mean, it's a matter of bringing more people into work and being able to support them, you know? Right now, we have a skeleton crew that's minimal staff. And we scale up and bring more revenue in, we can bring more people on board. It goes down to the purveyors, you know, the fish, the guys the greenmarket that we use. And, you know, everyone's suffering. So it's a trickle down effect that just helps everyone.

MICHAEL SCHATZBERG: Yep.

KRISTIN MYERS: And how are you preventing diners from getting sick? Because there are a lot of concerns that people have around indoor dining that, you know, it's not safe. We had one doctor on a little bit earlier today, who said doing a measure like this prematurely could cause the virus to continue to spread, which is no good for anyone in the long run, including businesses and including restaurants. So how are you guys thinking about doing indoor dining to really make sure that it can be done as safely as possible?

MICHAEL SCHATZBERG: Yeah, I think it's a great question. I think, A, a lot of states and a lot of cities around the country have been open at 100% capacity for quite some time with a lot of success. I think the rest of this state has been open throughout-- it's only really been the five Boroughs that have been shut down. So the rest of the state's been managing fine and doing really well.

In New York City, like I said, the restaurant operators, we've been dealing with letter grades, health departments, and things like that for years. It's always been part of our DNA. Health is first and foremost. We don't want any customers to ever get sick. So I think with respect to indoor dining, nothing is going to change. It's really spread out, I think. The staff has been incredible. Everyone is wearing masks. They have all the proper PPE, et cetera.

So I think it's-- we were opened earlier in the year before the December 15th shutdown. It was to tremendous success. And I think that will just be the way we approach this. We're just super excited. New Yorkers are excited. And I don't really think that's an issue at this point.

KRISTIN MYERS: James, we talk a lot about how this pandemic has caused a lot of companies to kind of change the way that they operate, while other companies have been out there, really kind of hoping for a light switch moment when everything can kind of go back to normal. I'm curious to know if you see things changing in the restaurant industry after the pandemic is over that is going to signal, really, changes in how folks think about dining.

JAMES TRACEY: Well, I think first, I know New Yorkers miss it, you know? They miss the socialization of it. They miss having food they don't make themselves. So I think that's not going to go anywhere. I think it's socialization as much as eating. There's definitely a sense of-- everyone's different. Everyone's got an opinion. Like, I want to sit outside, or I want to sit inside. But the delivery services, how we get good food through delivery services will be key. And it's always a challenge.

MICHAEL SCHATZBERG: Yeah, I was just going to add, if someone isn't comfortable eating inside, A, our outdoor dining is still available for everybody. And if you don't feel comfortable with that, you know, you can take that point. But I think there are a lot of people that are ready to get out, get inside, support the restaurant, support the industry. Like, to James's point, I think a lot of people, staff included, are really hurting right now, and vendors. So this is a real shot in the arm that New York needs.

KRISTIN MYERS: No, I definitely understand it. I'm here in New York. I cannot wait until we can start really truly eating out again. I loved shutting down the city streets, I have to say that. I appreciate being able to sit outside in the streets and being able to enjoy a meal. From Isabelle's Osteria, thank you to James Tracey, chef and partner, and Michael Schatzberg, operating partner. Thank you both.