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In January, business was up 25% from last year at Greg Fosdal’s DaddyO’s BBQ and Sports Bar. Two months later, he had to decide which five of his 12 staffers would be least affected by a layoff.
That stark reality set in for the Staten Island business owner after authorities ordered bars and eateries across the city to shut their dining areas in mid-March — forcing restaurants to shift to takeout and/or delivery operations or close.
“I tried to keep most of my people. I only laid off people that can be laid off. Like the younger kids that live with their parents,” Fosdal told THE CITY. “The people who need the work are still working to some extent, but I still had to cut hours.”
It’s a story that’s playing out at restaurants and bars around the city and far beyond.
But along Minthorne Street — which has emerged over the last six years as a mini-restaurant row and a symbol of Tompkinsville’s revival-in-progress — the crisis presents a collective make-or-break point.
Only two of the five businesses that share a sprawling complex are still open — DaddyO’s BBQ, which offers takeout and delivery, and Flagship Brewery, which offers delivery only.
‘A Nine-Inning Game’
To help stave off permanent closures, father-and-son landlords Gary and Sam Angiuli cancelled rent break in April and are considering a repeat in May.
“We realized that not giving them a rent break would be catastrophic for them and we’re playing a nine-inning game. ” said Gary Angiuli. “We love our tenants and we want them to be there for the long haul.”
Before the coronavirus pandemic, the restaurant, bar and event space strip a half-mile from the St. George Ferry Terminal had marked a rare economic success story for the North Shore, where over a $1 billion has been poured into unfinished mega-developments, like Empire Outlets.
The Angiulis transformed an old 33,000-square-foot warehouse, where their family once sold Buicks and Mazdas, into a modern space with a public plaza anchored by the brewery and its beer hall.
The effort, according to members of Staten Island’s business community, helped transform the Bay Street area, once a quiet commercial neighborhood, into a bustling food and beverage corridor.
“Minthorne [Street] is really important,” said Leticia Remauro, the acting executive director of the Staten Island Downtown Alliance. “[They’ve] done a fantastic job in getting it to be a recognized place for people from Brooklyn and Manhattan who wanted to dine out and that was really the most important thing that we needed in the downtown area.”
Now the Angiulis are giving their tenants cash so the businesses can donate food to health care workers, police officers, and firehouses in the borough.
“We just want to do everything we can to help our tenants succeed. We know how hard they work and we’re very grateful to be involved with these people who put together these interesting concepts with the community,” Sam Angiuli said.
From Sandy to COVID
Still, the future remains uncertain for the businesses on Minthorne Street, which are all independently owned and operated by Staten Islanders.
Enrichmint, a coworking and event space, was the first to close in late March. Flour and Oak, an Italian restaurant that debuted last June, shuttered on April 2.
Bobby Digi Olisa, a co-owner of O’Henry’s Publick House, which opened in January with a packed crowd, followed suit the next day.
Olisa has weathered other crises: Superstorm Sandy flooded his last bar, Notes, with four feet of water.
He applied for federal and local relief programs, but in the end, the only thing he was able to salvage from his Stapleton business was a wooden bar that he restored and placed in O’Henry’s.
Olisa said he couldn’t continue to pay his 13 employees on a takeout operation after business dropped 90% in March.
He and Fosdal have since applied to the Paycheck Protection Program and the Economic Injury Disaster Loan Program.
“It would put us back in the game, but it won’t solve all of our issues,” said Olisa, who’s hoping that Congress approves additional funds for minority and women-owned businesses. “If it goes through it puts us in a position to bring back our staff and give us some flexibility.”
Personal Crisis Weighs Heavy
Fosdal said he needed the forgivable loan “yesterday,” but only received information to apply for the program late last week.
The 51-year-old owner works in the restaurant seven days a week now, including helping out in the kitchen.
As Fosdal spoke to THE CITY on Friday, he struggled with far more than business. He learned that his wife had to drive their son, Greg Jr., 25, from his New Springville apartment to Staten Island University Hospital earlier that day.
The son, who used to work at the restaurant’s bar, registered a fever and began vomiting. On Wednesday, hospital staff reported that Greg Jr. would have to remain there for two more weeks as he battles COVID-19, Fosdal said.
In the meantime, Fosdal works and works.
“The bills are still due. The electric company still wants their money. Regardless, even if you close, you still have to pay them some $500 for service,” he said.
“They all want their money and that’s what we have to worry about and that’s the scary part: Six months from now, people might still be scared to come out to a restaurant.”
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