As COVID-19 infection rates continue to rise on Long Island, restaurants are again becoming a battleground. Since Gov. Kathy Hochul announced that masks are required as of Dec. 13 in all indoor public spaces unless venues implement a vaccine requirement, many eateries have returned to universal mask wearing. But a small number of LI restaurants are opting for a vaccine requirement.
At West End Cafe in Carle Place, partner Nelson Cruz said that since the state's initial instructions regarding masking were unclear, the restaurant decided to go with proof of vaccination instead. "Most of our customers are on the older side," he said. So far he hasn't "gotten any pushback" but that he would rather "lose two customers than lose everybody."
It's the precisely the fear of losing customers that drove Daniel Pedisich to decide to stick to a mask mandate. The owner of Konoba in Huntington said that he was less concerned about everyone being vaccinated than turning away business."There are already fewer people than ever going to restaurants," he said. "And while there are too many unvaccinated people out there, I need every customer I can get."
Kyma, a Greek seafood restaurant in Roslyn, had quietly adopted a policy of requiring patrons to show proof of vaccination shortly after Hochul's announcement, but after it was listed Tuesday in an online version of this article, the blowback made it change course. Now, said partner Reno Christou, "in an effort to be accessible to all patrons, we have decided to adhere to the mask policy. We have determined it to be the best and most inclusive option for our guests."
Gary Dvoskin, an enthusiastic restaurant-goer from Melville, said that he understood both sides of the argument. "It might be a selling point if a restaurant required proof of vaccination, but as long as a restaurant is compliant in terms of masking and spacing, I'm not going to stop going."
Unfortunately, restaurateurs cannot count on every customer being as evenhanded as Dvoskin. Cruz, Christou and Pedisich all agreed that, right now, there’s no way to avoid alienating some customers. "Let the government figure it out," Pedisich suggested. Enforcement "shouldn’t be my job or something that hurts my pocket."
Here are Long Island restaurants and bars that have vaccine requirements for indoor dining:
Krinti Mediterranean Grill, Woodbury: Manager Tolga Bilen noted that even were the restaurant to require masks, guests would still have to remove them when dining. "Proof of vaccination just makes more sense," she said, adding that about 70% of customers are grateful for the requirement; among the other 30%, some may even be vaccinated but object to the policy regardless. "We may lose some customers," she admitted, "but we've gained more."
West End Cafe, Carle Place: Partner Nelson Cruz said the state's initial instructions to return to masking prompted the restaurant to go with proof of vaccination instead. Many of his customers "even put on masks when they get up to go to the bathroom." Sandbar, Cold Spring Harbor: The upscale Cold Spring Harbor restaurant is currently asking patrons to show proof of vaccination upon arrival. This is the only venue owned by Lessings Hospitality Group to do so.
Takumi, Commack: In addition to requiring proof of vaccination, the traditional Japanese restaurant is only serving at half capacity and is requiring reservations for all dine-in customers. Curbside pickup is also available.
Grasso's, Cold Spring Harbor: The longtime jazz-focused restaurant put a vaccine requirement in place Dec. 15 for diners. "We either have to police the wearing of masks while you, our guests, are not actively eating or drinking, or ensure that you are fully vaccinated. Grasso’s has chosen to ensure that everyone is safe by checking to make sure that everyone is fully vaccinated," the venue's Facebook page reads. Diners can show an Excelsior pass or a CDC card, but the venue notes that photos of vaccination cards are not considered eligible proof.
Almond, Bridgehampton: The French bistro has been requiring proof of vaccination since New York City's mandate went into effect in late summer, co-owner Eric Lemonides said.
BTW, Oceanside: The LGBTQ-friendly bar and lounge, which hosts pop culture trivia, karaoke and DJ nights, begain requiring proof of vaccination as of Dec. 13, said owner Gina Caggiano.
The Black Sheep Ale House, Mineola: Owner Vincent Minutella said the bar was reinstituting its vaccine-for-entry policy that calls for customers to show proof of vaccination either through an Excelsior pass, vaccination card or photo of the card on their smartphone. "I want people to enjoy the bar as it’s meant to be enjoyed," he said, adding that it's "a much more enjoyable environment in the bar when people are free to go about their business without masks on."