“The recovery of New York City as a whole is only possible when it is inclusive of all neighborhoods, including ones like mine in The Bronx that suffered some of the worst effects of the pandemic.”

Adi Talwa

Staff at La Morada restaurant in the South Bronx, pictured here during September 2020.

As we settle into a new normal with pandemic recovery, New York City is coming back to life. Subways are filled with commuters, businesses are beginning to reopen, and friends and families are gathering in parks, homes, and restaurants. But that new normal is arriving faster for some areas of the city, while others face a slower recovery.

The recovery of New York City as a whole is only possible when it is inclusive of all neighborhoods, including ones like mine in The Bronx that suffered some of the worst effects of the pandemic. Up until the pandemic hit, my district was experiencing positive trends in key socioeconomic indicators such as employment, wage growth and population. The restaurant and hospitality industry particularly was charting towards promising growth. But the restaurants in The Bronx were hit hard by lockdowns and the shutdown of indoor dining, and as a result the industry experienced the largest job decline throughout the pandemic.

In order to achieve an equitable, just recovery for the entire city, we need to revitalize The Bronx restaurant industry, and in turn The Bronx economy. To bring positive trends of socioeconomic growth back to the borough, we have to create conditions where new and existing restaurants  will thrive and focus efforts on uplifting service industry workers in The Bronx. The pandemic sparked creative new ways to work and live, and we should draw upon these ideas to revive our community restaurants.

Robust takeout and delivery options served as a lifeline for bars and restaurants through the pandemic, and will continue to be an essential component of the business. Specifically, allowing restaurants to sell alcohol-to go was a new necessary stream of revenue during the pandemic. Not only does this help restaurants stay afloat, but it’s popular with patrons. An overwhelming majority of New Yorkers support changing the state law to permanently allow to-go alcoholic beverages.

I believe allowing take-away cocktails will give restaurants the confidence to invest and develop alcohol-to-go programs that will help bolster sales, allowing them a full recovery. Gov. Kathy Hochul has outlined this as a potential solution and numerous restaurants in my district also stand in support.

A key struggle facing restaurants in the road to recovery has been the mass exodus of restaurant workers. New York State has been impacted more than any other state in the country, with 1 in 10 restaurant workers having left the industry permanently.

To bring restaurant workers back, restaurant owners and policy makers alike have to create working conditions that make it worth their while. Restaurant owners have already had to raise their wages to incentivize workers to return. Many workers have called for statewide policy to enact One Fair Wage, a bill that would implement a $15 minimum wage with tips on top for all workers. This bill is accompanied by the High Road Kitchens bill, which invests $50 million in forgivable loans to New York restaurants that pay their staff a fair wage of $15 plus tips. I wholly support these bills and believe that passing both will be a key part of revitalizing my neighborhood’s restaurants.

Revitalizing the restaurant industry in The Bronx will involve providing comprehensive protections to this large portion of our workforce that has been thus far excluded. I believe in order to encourage economic growth in this and all areas, we need a thriving population that can revitalize the economy of our neighborhood from within. The Excluded Workers Fund has ensured that no workers are left behind.

In order to attain a full economic recovery, we must continue to support local businesses in every way possible. We need to transcend what stability looks like and stop neglecting our most vulnerable workforces. Uplifting Bronx restaurant workers will boost The Bronx economy and ultimately lead us towards a more holistic recovery for New York City.

Nathalia Fernández is a New York State Assemblymember representing The Bronx’s 80th District, which includes the neighborhoods of Norwood, Allerton, Pelham Gardens and Morris Park.