Like so many places across the country, the past several months have been challenging and unpredictable for our community. That’s why we wanted to do something special to spotlight the amazing people that make up our unique district.
Faces Of East Midtown is photo and interview series aimed at celebrating the humanity of our neighborhood and providing a real, raw and honest look at the faces behind the locally-owned businesses that have gone through unimaginable changes amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
September 17, 2020
Photography by Ron Jautz, Jautz Photography
East Midtown Partnership: Tell us about your business or place of work. When did you originally open or start and what was your vision?
Amy Babic: I am fortunate to have three businesses in East Midtown. La Cava (East 50th Street and Second Avenue) is a small wine bar opened in 2010, Kurant Wine Bar (East 57th Street and Second Avenue) opened in 2013, and Copinette (East 50th Street and First Avenue) in 2018 is a much larger restaurant. Our goal has always been to provide great quality wines, affordable tasty food, and service where the bartender probably knows your name and what you're drinking.
EMP: Give us an overview of what things have been like for you and your staff during the Covid-19 lockdown.
AB: Like most restaurants, we fully closed March 16th. We knew takeout would not even come close enough to sustain anything. We tried to stay optimistic as best we could. Holding on for one or two months is such a different mindset than what we know now to be six-plus months.
EMP: When did you reopen, and how did/does it feel to reopen your doors to the district?
AB: We reopened mid-May for takeout. It was a different world then. Not being able to serve people or not being allowed to catch up with people on the sidewalk. Getting used to wearing masks had its learning curve for both staff and customers. The weather started to get warmer and it was wonderful to see familiar faces but sadly many neighbors and customers have left town or are still out of town. As we get closer to fall it does feel like there is a return. I’m getting more messages, emails and calls that people are coming back so hopefully that is happening across the city. It will be different but as long as people are returning things will be moving in the right direction. We’ve always had a great happy hour, but without people going to an office when they can work virtually will happy hour ever be the same?
EMP: After being shuttered for months, several more businesses are slowly starting to reopen in the district. What does that mean to you?
AB: When businesses reopen it truly brings life to the neighborhood. We have always loved that Second Avenue has always been a destination for dining. People don’t have to decide where they’re dining. They can walk by see who has an available table. If one is full they can dine at the next one. Each business brings more employees who are likely to grab coffee, lunch, dinner or go shopping before/after their shift. The more open businesses the better for everyone.
EMP: What’s one thing you’ve either learned, grown to appreciate or adjusted in your business practices moving forward as a result of the pandemic?
AB: To be a business owner in even good times you have to be flexible, keep making changes, stay positive, push yourself to the limit. But the past six months have really been a testament to that. We’ve survived the shutdown, curfews, riots, tropical storm Isaias among other storms that happen in the middle of dinner, rehired staff amidst an unusual time of unemployment, DOT inspections demanding we fix things within 24 hours, and the kicker - SLA inspections that have made our entire industry fear for their jobs. All you can do is take it one day at a time. If I start to worry about, oh, I don’t know, let’s say the winter when outdoor dining is no longer feasible, I will start to lose it. I was having a bad day and a friend who works in a restaurant that still hasn’t opened told me, “Amy, just keep going. That’s all you have to do.”
EMP: What is your hope for the future of your industry in the city in the coming months?
AB: Obviously the pressure is on for indoor dining. NYC is the last remaining area in the tri-state with an indoor dining ban. It is extremely unfair to let the ban continue when the rest of the state is open and our new case numbers remain low. We are at the mercy of the weather, our employees’ shifts are at the mercy of the weather. Our rent, insurances, taxes do not stop. We received wonderful news that 25% [indoor capacity] will be allowed at the end of September. It’s a step in the right direction but 25% occupancy will not be enough to pay rent. Outdoor dining has been a great addition but so many restaurants, like two of mine, simply do not have the outdoor space to cover the loss of indoors.
EMP: Any other thoughts you want people to know as they venture out into the neighborhood?
AB: If you look around at who’s open, those are the businesses that are fighting tooth and nail, those are the working owners who make daily sacrifices to keep their doors open. Closing and walking away from our lives' work isn’t an option. We’ve been a part of so many happy memories for those who have dined with us. I’m proud to work in Midtown East among so many who have greatly contributed to our community.