Last Tuesday, on what would have been the fourth annual event, the chamber instead gathered virtually with lawmakers to highlight restaurants and businesses in Queens.
“I want to make tonight a celebration, despite everything that’s going on right now,” said Tom Grech, president and CEO of the Queens Chamber. “We were the borough hit the hardest and we’ve risen to the occasion.”
Grech has previously estimated that roughly half of the borough’s 6,000 restaurants will never reopen as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. He noted that restaurants play an important role in the economy, including buying supplies locally and helping landlords.
He said the chamber intends to do everything it can to make sure they reopen and stay open.
“Restaurants are what unite us,” Grech said. “We think it’s so important to make sure those restaurants get back on their feet.”
Lawmakers who joined the conference call were asked to highlight two restaurants in their districts. Assemblywoman Alicia Hyndman, who helped organize the virtual “Queens Day in Albany,” mentioned A Live Kitchen, an all-vegan restaurant in Laurelton, and Jamaica Breeze, an eatery that has managed to stay open by offering takeout.
Assemblyman David Weprin spotlighted Alphapointe, a Richmond Hill-based company that employs blind people. Weprin said the business has been involved in COVID-19 efforts by manufacturing protective equipment, and has kept every employee on the payroll.
He also spoke about Richi Rich, a Richmond Hill catering hall of importance to the local Sikh community. He said the hall has also maintained a takeout operation.
Assemblywoman Nily Rozic recommended Sup Thai Kitchen on Union Turnpike, which she frequents often for staff lunches. She also praised Fillmore’s Tavern in Fresh Meadows, which has delivered thousands of meals to frontline workers at hospitals in Queens, Brooklyn and Long Island.
“They could’ve just stayed closed,” Rozic said, “but they’ve really stepped up.”
In Bayside, Assemblyman Edward Braunstein highlighted the work of Bourbon Street and One Station Plaza, both owned by restaurateur Mark Boccia. Along with his son, Boccia started the “Food for the Fearless” campaign to fundraise and deliver meals to frontline workers.
Last month, the Queens Chamber and Queensboro Football Club urged supporters to contribute to the campaign to reach their goal of $100,000. The campaign has also allowed the restaurants to retain their employees during the pandemic.
“They are great neighborhood partners,” Braunstein said. “When this is all said and done, I hope my colleagues will join me to check out those spots.”
Assemblyman Clyde Vanel spoke highly of Antun’s catering hall, which he said has been working to keep their staff and deliver food to different organizations. He also said Good Taste Restaurant in Queens Village has been feeding folks in the Haitian and Caribbean communities, many of whom are nurses and work in the frontlines.
Other businesses that have contributed during the crisis include ERA Top Realty and Navi Transportation, he said.
Assemblyman Michael DenDekker spotlighted the work of Cassidy’s Ale House in East Elmhurst, which has been paying its workers during the pandemic. He said many restaurants have been giving away food and doing everything they can to help their communities.
“Queens is very united,” he said.
Astoria Assemblywoman Aravella Simotas chose Blend Astoria, which has been providing weekly food donations to local hospitals. She also commended Duzan for providing free meals during Ramadan and recognizing the large need in the Muslim community.
In the Rockaways, Assemblywoman Stacey Pheffer Amato said she hopes the beaches will open at some point in the summer this year. Though she did not choose just one, Amato said concession stands on the boardwalk offer a diversity of foods, and are important to the local economy.
She also praised Russo’s on the Bay in Howard Beach for the “unbelievable work” it has been doing for frontline workers and first responders.
“When summer comes,” she said, “it’d be great to be eating at one of our great restaurants.”
As for the legislators in the other chamber, State Senator Michael Gianaris highlighted two western Queens restaurants in his district. The first is M. Wells Steakhouse in Long Island City, which has been open for takeout. The other is Sac’s Place, which he called “an institution in Astoria for a long, long time.”
State Senator Leroy Comrie spotlighted Maxine on the Boulevard in St. Albans, which has been feeding people at both Jamaica Hospital and Flushing Hospital. He also shouted out Sangria Restaurant, The Door and Nourish Spot as well.
While State Senator John Liu could not provide just two recommendations, he spoke about two places where he frequents often. The first is VIPizza on Bell Boulevard, where he goes almost everyday for a sicilian slice.
The other is Whitestone Diner, which Liu said offers good food, good service and is a good meeting spot.
Finally, State Senator Joseph Addabbo commended Russo’s on the Bay for their work, as well as Resorts World Casino for being a “phenomenal” neighbor in the community.
Grech noted that last year’s Queens Day in Albany, which culminates with a food celebration, had more than 50 local restaurants travel to the state capital.
“My goal is to have more restaurants come next year,” he said.