Nourishing a changed city

Feeding 8 million New Yorkers amid coronavirus has demanded ingenuity and commitment from thousands of volunteers at food pantries across the five boroughs. Restaurateurs have been forced to experiment with new ways to expand their business models to survive and, somehow, thrive in the future.

Organizing to Feed the Hungry

New mutual aid groups are here to stay

By Mary Steffenhagen

Around 2 p.m. on a Saturday, New Yorkers begin to line the sidewalk around Herbert Von King Park in Bed-Stuy. Some have been here as early as 8 a.m. to save a spot in line. Around 3 p.m., a volunteer will hand each person a cardboard box nearly overflowing with an assortment of food—and a bouquet of flowers.

Vickie Huffman, a personal trainer currently out of work, bikes over from Park Slope almost every week to pick up food for her family. “They can’t really afford the fresh foods. My daughter has two children so it’s not so easy for her to pack up and come out,” she said. “I’m really grateful for the fresh food.”

This is the weekly Food Not Bombs food share. It’s been a staple of the neighborhood for over a decade. Even before the coronavirus pandemic, over 1 million people in New York City were considered “food insecure” — in other words, they weren’t getting enough food to eat.

Feeding America, a nonprofit food bank organization, now estimates that over 2 million New Yorkers are going hungry because of the pandemic. Mutual aid groups like the anarchist collective Food Not Bombs stepped up, in addition to many churches, to meet the unprecedented need. As the pandemic wears on, many newly formed collectives are starting to think about where they fit into the city landscape for the long term.  read more >

To do mutual aid is basically to live in the world as you want to see it.

Andrea Atehortua

Organizer, Queens Care Collective

Number of Community Fridge Locations

For Restaurants, Innovation > Hibernation

Cooking up creative ways to survive the winter

By Olivia Bensimon

If there’s anything New York City restaurants have been forced to learn over the past eight months, it’s to plan for the unpredictable.

While the city threw a lifeline to restaurants by making outdoor dining a permanent fixture year-round, the mounting restrictions and sheer unpredictability of a New York City winter have left many restaurants trying to stay two steps ahead of a city that seems to be systematically two months behind.

“It’s a complex and messy situation,” said Moshe Schulman, one of the managing partners at the wine bars Kindred and Ruffian in the East Village. “We’re just kind of trying new things and seeing what sticks.”

Left to their own devices, many restaurants are taking matters into their own hands and staying creative as a way to survive the winter. With the city announcing a shutdown on indoor dining in mid-December as the number of COVID-19 cases in the city rose, local governments have been criticized as doing too little to help restaurants weather these literal and metaphoric storms.  read more >

It’s really made me appreciate and respect the strength and resilience of the hospitality professionals in this city even more. I don’t think NYC streets will be the same after this.

Sissi Nie

Creator, Instagram site


PercentAGE of restaurants that have used outdoor seating

Expanding business models to stay alive

Restaurants, stores pivot to merchandising to bolster brands

By Keith Paul Medelis

For Parul Patel, closing her family’s iconic Gem Spa corner store in the East Village after 35 years was meant to be temporary. She took over from her father, who was working to reintroduce the store’s vintage soda shop vibe before he fell ill. Now, Patel sells branded T-shirts out of her garage in New Jersey.

“It took me a long time to realize that the store was now closed,” said Patel over the phone while taking a break from packing boxes. “But when we closed the store, we experienced a tremendous boost in our business.”

Despite plummeting sales, Patel’s landlord was not giving her a break.

“I did try to negotiate with him,” she said. “He couldn’t assure us that he wouldn’t evict us when the moratorium was lifted.”

Her merchandising sales have grown by nearly 200% since May, so she hopes that without the burden of rent, she can launch back into a brick and mortar business when the pandemic ends.

New York’s restaurants and corner stores, including some notable icons, are closing every day. Some experts predict that as many as 70% could fail in the long winter months. With a bottom line always on the line, restaurants in “The Great Before” just did one thing: serve food.

A pivot to merchandising now offers the strongest brands a fighting chance to stay alive as they cash in on nostalgia with a side of a return-to-normalcy for dessert.  read more>

It took a pandemic for us to realize that, as an industry, we shouldn’t put all our eggs in one basket.

Barbara Leung

Spokesperson, Nom Wah


Percentage of NYC restaurants that experts predict could fail