Nader Gebrin steeled himself before going live on Facebook at 10 a.m. The chef-owner of Huntington’s Bravo Nader had been up since 6:30 trying to figure out the best way to tell his friends and customers about the wrenching decision he had made. “Hello, everyone,” he began. “How you guys doing?”
Then he lowered the boom. “‘It’s a very sad day for me because I am shutting down Bravo Nader. Yup. I accept the fact that I can no longer operate under those circumstances.”
And so ended the run of one of Long Island’s most beloved restaurants.
The Cairo-born Gebrin studied the culinary arts in Egypt and Switzerland before emigrating to the United States and cooking in Manhattan. He was running the dining room at Orlando’s in Huntington when he took over the little building that had been Trattoria Grasso and, in 1996, turned it into Bravo Nader, serving an eclectic, quasi-Italian menu that always featured seafood, some of which the avid fisherman caught himself.
Gebrin had not been cooking in the restaurant for more than a month, but he held onto the hope that one day, he would return. Today, he realized that there was nothing to back up that hope.
“This situation, it's a disaster for someone like me who lives and breathes food,” he said. The man needs to cook for people — since the restaurant closed he’s cooked for more than 1,000 people out of his home kitchen — but the flip side is that he also needs to see their appreciation. “Someone comes in with a mask. I can’t see their reaction. I can’t hug them or kiss them or see the expression on their face.” He noted that up to 30 percent of his business was people who had met dating online. “How is that going to work now?”
Gebrin believes that a restaurant that does at least half its business in takeout has a fighting chance moving forward, but high-end restaurants like his, he said, “are not going to survive. I’m serving $42 swordfish, Nigerian prawns, lobster meatballs. These are meant to be eaten with a $150 bottle of wine. That does not translate to takeout.”
He said his decision was not an easy one, but when he looked at the numbers, it was the only one he could make. Between rent, labor, food and insurance, he figures, “I have to make $14,000 to break even every week. But two weeks before I closed I made $6,700; the next week I made $2,700. I paid my employees in full and I said to them, ‘Guys, it’s been a pleasure, but I can’t be a hero anymore.’”
His view of the future of restaurants is dim. Aside from the financial strains and loss of customer contact, he foresees a labor Armageddon. “Let’s say I reduce my 13 tables to six tables. My kitchen guy agrees to take a pay cut. But then another restaurant opens up, they have more money — there’s going to be a bidding war for help. And then you don’t have the same guy cooking your food, there’s not going to be the consistency that diners look for.”
The nightmare doesn’t stop there. “Let’s say you reopen. A busboy sneezes. The customers get the food packed up and leave, someone posts about the sneeze on social media …”
These are the thoughts that have been going on inside Gebrin’s head since March. “I see the whole miserable play,” he said. “I can’t keep blinking and not looking at it head on. After 47 days I just had to share it.”
Once he finishes cleaning out the restaurant, Gebrin will spend a lot of time fishing. When it’s safe to do so, he’ll resume his side job as a private chef and cooking teacher. That, he said, “will bring the joy again into my heart.”