Grants Help Keep Rockaway Merchants Afloat

BY KERRY MURTHA

Steve Cohen’s deep coffers may not get a pennant for the New York Mets, but the millions the hedge-fund manager recently donated to Queens businesses scored a win for the local economy.

“As the owner of the Mets, we are proud to support small business owners during this difficult time,” Cohen said in a statement referring to the $17.5 million grant program he made possible earlier this year. “Just as they have supported the team and the community over the years, we hope this donation brings them some relief.”

The program is helping 175 restaurants, retail shops and personal service businesses in the borough rebound from the pandemic’s devastating economic impact. Grants were awarded to merchants located in LMI Queens zip codes and in COVID-19 “hardest hit” zones. Recipients employed 20 or fewer full-time employees in 2019 and earned gross revenue of $1 million or less during that year. Qualifying restaurants were required to earn less than $3 million in gross revenue for the same time period.

“The Queens Small Business Grant Program has been vitally important in keeping so many of our small businesses open, businesses that support thousands of families through local hiring,” noted Borough President Donovan Richards, who helped launch the initiative.

Tom Grech, president of the Queens Chamber of Commerce and one of the program’s administrative partners, called the measure “a grand slam.” The chamber processed approximately $3.6 million in grants, with each business receiving an average of $20,000. And while funds were dispersed throughout the borough, Grech said he made sure businesses on the Rockaway peninsula were well represented.

“We wanted to focus our efforts there because they lost a whole summer season,” said Grech, “a loss that seriously impacted the area.”

Indeed, the aid was sorely needed by small business owners who populate the beachfront community. From buying new equipment to sprucing up their space, five of the Rockaway grantees shared how their newfound money is helping them gear up for better days ahead.

ELEGANTE PIZZERIA

Frank Amato, co-owner of Elegante Pizzeria, is making plans to upgrade the kitchen of his corner eatery, where he puts in regular 12-hour shifts to make and serve an average 100 pizza pies a day.

“We’re going to take out our old lighting and put in LED lights in the kitchen and behind our counter,” said Amato. Two new stoves, with additional burners, will expedite his entree orders, a must for the takeout dishes that have kept him in business for the past year.

“We’re still at 50 percent capacity but we have to balance how many people we can have seated with our walk-in customers,” he said. “The grant was quite a relief and will help us make improvements that will get us ready for a busy summer.”

FAT CARDINAL PROVISIONS

Extra funding has allowed Thomas Quinn, co-owner of Fat Cardinal Provisions, to hire an additional baker, full-time counter server and kitchen assistant. The artisanal bakery, famed for its custom made cakes, doughnuts and cookies, is a favorite among locals.

“Having more help in the store will free up our time to work on our bigger orders,” said Quinn. “We really took a hit when so many weddings, christenings and other special occasions were canceled, but that business is starting to pick up.”

Quinn also purchased advertising space in the local newspaper and bought several inviting frames to showcase photos of the owners’ best desserts around their storefront.

“These are things we wanted to do to enhance our business, but couldn’t afford to do before,” he said.

CUISINE BY CLAUDETTE

Yarden Flatow, co-owner of Cuisine By Claudette, said he and his business partner and mother, for whom the Rockaway staple cafe is named, will improve the outdoor seating area for summer diners.

“We’re going to add a new sidewalk deck and enclose the area with greenery and flora,” said Flatow. Managing inventory will get easier as well. “We’ll be able to store more goods and stock up for summer crowds as opposed to managing inventory on a day-to-day basis,” Flatow said. “Having additional money to cover general expenses is welcome news. It’s the first time we’ve gotten engaged support from anyone.

“When we tried for a PPP loan when this all started, it was a bureaucratic headache,” he added. “We are super thankful for this.”

THAI ROCK

Thai Rock restaurant owner Robert Kaskel said the money he was allocated will help him renew his liquor license, buy a new meat slicer, and invest in an outdoor dishwasher for his open patio bar that overlooks Jamaica Bay.

“I try to focus on how I can improve my operations,” said Kaskel.

The entrepreneur, who also operates a jet ski rental business adjacent to his restaurant, said he hopes to replace the shades around his outdoor dining area too.

“If I can buy a plexiglass barrier or something similar, I can maintain my business in the bad weather,” he said, “and that investment will directly increase my bottom line.”

LISENA LANDSCAPING & GARDEN CENTER

Freddy Lisena, who owns Lisena Gardening and Landscaping in Broad Channel, has earmarked his funds to purchase a new and improved 800-square-foot greenhouse, an addition that will double his inventory, and add to his wide selection of plants, herbs and deciduous trees.

“We can increase our stock and variety of indoor plants and that will extend the year for us,” said Lisena. “The months of March and April are our peak selling season, so last year was tough. But this grant will certainly help us prep for busier seasons to come.”

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