With 70 percent of adults vaccinated this week, Gov. Andrew Cuomo lifted most pandemic restrictions, fêting the occasion with fireworks. “We can now return to life as we know it. We’re no longer just surviving,” crowed Cuomo.
Tell that to Gotham’s bars and restaurants. “New York was the victim of COVID,” he said. More specifically, New York eateries were — and continue to be — victims of Cuomo and other pompous pols. They’re still recovering from senseless restrictions, with government-driven inflation and labor shortages further impeding their comeback.
Mexico Lindo should be setting off its own sparklers. One of the city’s oldest Mexican joints, the cozy Kip’s Bay eatery just marked its 49th anniversary, an almost unheard-of accomplishment.
“I feel like we can’t celebrate as of yet,” owner Claudia “Byrd” Bonilla tells me. “I hope that next year we’re still around and we can celebrate 50 years, which I think is insane.”
That suggests how serious the situation is: Restrictions are receding, but she still stresses about survival.
Like many restaurants, Mexico Lindo scrabbled pre-pandemic. “It’s an unpredictable business, and we’re a small family business, we’re old school,” says Claudia. “A lot of people want to go to the newest, trendiest spots.”
Antonio and Leonor Bonilla opened it in May 1972, when Claudia was born in Brooklyn Heights. Summers spent visiting Leonor’s family near Teotihuacán’s pyramids inspired its homestyle but high-quality cuisine. Most diners are repeat customers — their unparalleled queso fundido, rich with cheese and chorizo, made me one, along with the staff’s warmth. Claudia started there a few years out of college, taking over when Antonio died in 2014; younger sister Lara soon joined full time.
But it was the pandemic — and the often-daffy decrees accompanying it — that put their eatery on life support. When they closed in March 2020, Lara says, “I started crying hysterically, and I said, ‘Claudia, is this the end of us?’”
Reopening for takeout/delivery only, the staff went from 12 to three, including the chef. They juggled multiple roles and monitored constantly changing regulations. Short-notice closures and capacity changes meant someone rehired had to go and food bought might spoil. When Cuomo dictated drinks couldn’t be sold without food, sales plunged further as customers couldn’t stop in for margaritas. Cuomo closed indoor dining again in the winter, though eateries generated just 1.43 percent of COVID spread.
“It was just so horrendously bad,” Claudia recalls. “Heaters were impossible to get,” Lara adds. Their outdoor seating went without them for months.
The toll that took remains — like most restaurateurs, they’re still catching up on rent — as governments throw them fresh challenges.
New jobless claims climbed to 412,000 last week, ending six weeks of decline, though April saw record job openings. Why? Congress’ March “relief” package extended the $300 federal weekly unemployment supplement to September.
Mexico Lindo’s hours remain reduced thanks to a staffing shortage. Do they think it’s the supplement?
“Oh, no. I know it’s why. Without a doubt,” Claudia declares. “Kelly, nobody is available.” She calls 15 employment agencies daily, looking for line cooks, runners, bussers, servers. “Nobody wants to work,” Lara says bluntly. On Cinco de Mayo, they brought in “random help,” like family friends, Claudia says. “I had to call in a lot of favors.”
They can’t hold off raising prices much longer. Everything is more expensive; their Restaurant Depot bill is up $500 a week. They put it down partly to production slowdowns from labor shortages. Consumer prices are up 5 percent, the biggest 12-month spike since 2008.
Unprecedented stimulus is also fueling inflation, yet pols promise more “aid.” President Joe Biden calls for more stimulus to “meet the moment.” Cuomo lists pet spending projects, asking, “What happened to the New York ambition?”
No, lawmakers should repair the damage they’ve done by getting out of the way. Cuomo could best aid recovery by ending the federal jobless bonus — 25 governors say they’ll do so by mid-July.
“This business can be really hard, and it’s a tough life,” Claudia says. But customers who feel like family make it worthwhile.
A labor of love is what’s kept Mexico Lindo going for nearly a half-century. It powers all the city’s vibrant eateries. Government “help” is the last thing these dedicated entrepreneurs need.
Kelly Jane Torrance is a member of The Post Editorial Board.
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Author: ThinkCivics Newswire
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