By Tania Padgett
Dianna Loiselle, owner of Astoria restaurant Telly’s Taverna, remembers when she became fed up with the proof of vaccination mandate.
One evening as the dinner crowd trickled in, her hostess politely asked for and began reviewing vaccination cards and IDs.
All complied without incident, except for one.
A man, his face contorting with anger at the request, produced his card, but not without making several derogatory comments about his private area.
The hostess fled the dining room and then burst into tears. Loiselle, who had been standing just a few feet away, could not believe what she had just heard.
“I was in shock,” she said. “I kept asking myself, did he really just say that?”
The mandate turned the restaurant business from a welcoming experience to an unwelcoming one, she added.
“We did not want to police our customers.”
Brian Urbina, co-owner of Dylan’s Forest Hills, said his experience with the mandate was also difficult.
Customers would get verbally abusive with his staff after they were asked to show proof of vaccination and dinner traffic began to dwindle.
Dylan’s, which opened two days before the pandemic shut down the world, was beginning to get back on its feet last year after managing several crises brought on by COVID-19.
“Then the mandate came,” Urbina said. “And I wasn’t sure if the business would be able to survive the fallout.”
But that all changed when Mayor Eric Adams lifted the ban on the mandate bringing relief to many restaurateurs.
“The restaurant industry was devastated by the pandemic,” Tom Grech, president and chief executive officer of the Queens Chamber of Commerce, said.
“Many jobs were lost. Many businesses, shuttered. The removal of the mandate has improved the business climate so that restaurants can now do what they do best and that’s provide a fine dining experience.”
Indeed. Queens restaurant owners interviewed by “This is Queensborough” said the removal of the mandate has brought immediate benefits to their businesses.
During one evening in March, Telly’s dining room is full. Waiters bustle about with platters groaning with steaming plates of Greek favorites, grilled octopus, fish, fried calamari and spinach pie.
The low murmur of people enjoying a night out and the sound of wine-filled glasses clinking fill the air.
The restaurant’s business is almost back to pre-pandemic levels, Loiselle said. Next steps are to keep getting better, she replied.
“We’ve been here for more than 30 years serving fresh, delicious Greek food, and we plan to continue that tradition for at least 30 more,” Loiselle said.
Urbina said he wept with joy when he heard the mandate had been lifted.
“It saved my business,” he said matter-of-factly. “Our revenue is now up 40 percent, and we expect it only to get better.”
Dylan’s with its Hard Rock Café-inspired décor, live music and menu full of comfort-food favorites was in the hole for almost a million dollars due to the pandemic.
The mandate, which was meant to save lives, was killing his business. When it was removed, the restaurant started to fill up with customers again, Urbina said.
His business goals include paying off debt, bringing in even bigger acts to the venue, and keeping customers happy.
Marcos Muñoz, owner of Mojitos in Jackson Heights, also saw a bump in business after the mandate was lifted.
The owner of the Latin fusion restaurant, which serves mouthwatering delights, such as grilled shrimp, smoked pork skin, toasted garlic bread, mashed fried plantains and more, is also optimistic, but cautious.
“We are back,” Muñoz said. “But Queens restaurants still need support.”
More needs to be done, he said, adding that he would like to see the legalization of alcoholic beverages “to-go” and other pro-business initiatives.
Grech noted that the chamber is ready to offer assistance to Queens restaurants.
“The Queens Chamber of Commerce offers technical assistance, business advice and financial planning for restaurants,” Grech said. “We are committed to getting Queens businesses back on track. Call us!”