The nights are dark and full of terrors for already COVID-battered restaurant owners struggling to stay afloat or open new locations.
That’s because runaway crime and rampant homelessness are forcing them to close early or spend extra money on security to keep their patrons safe, according to interviews with several Big Apple restaurateurs.
Richie Romero, a veteran restaurateur and nightclub impresario, told Side Dish he was forced to hire a security guard until 4 a.m. on the weekends at his Lower East Side spot Zazzy’s Pizza.
“I’m mobbed Thursday, Friday and Saturday, but I have to close early, at 11 pm, during the week because people are too afraid to go out at night,” said Romero, who also owns Zazzy’s locations in the West Village and the Upper East Side, along with the plant-based eatery Innocent Yesterday in the Village.
“The criminals are patrolling the streets,” he added. “I live in the West Village and it’s even worse there. It’s desolate at night, just homeless people and strange people walking around.”
Restaurateur Stratis Morfogen — of Brooklyn Chop House and Brooklyn Dumpling Shop — also said the West Village is “out of control.”
He described a horror show where drug dealers are sprawled out in reclining chairs in front of closed stores, asking people walking by if they want cocaine, Ecstasy and marijuana.
“This is the heart of New York City and NYU dorms. Where is the NYPD to protect the students and small business owners?” Morfogen said, adding that graffiti is “wall to wall.”
“There isn’t an inch of the neighborhood that hasn’t been tagged,” he said. “We complain to the NYPD and they do nothing, and if they do something, the criminals are back the next day. There is no real solution. It took eight years to screw it up and it will take more than a few months to fix the problem but it needs to be addressed because we are losing our community.”
Morfogen signed a lease during the pandemic in 2020 to open Pappas Taverna, a wood-fired Greek restaurant at 103-105 Macdougal St. with Chef Peter Spryopoulos, formerly of Milos and Avra.
It was slated to open last fall but the opening kept getting delayed. At first, there were the usual hold-ups, from building permits to pandemic-related supply chain issues, but crime held things up even more.
“We’ve been broken into twice,” said Morfogen, adding that thieves walked off with $20,000 worth of construction equipment that had been locked up inside the restaurant. He now hopes to open by the end of the summer.
According to the NYPD, overall arrests are up 44.6%, from 597 to 863, in the Sixth Precinct, which covers Greenwich Village.
“The problem is that we just don’t have enough police and Macdougal St. is very difficult,” said Pari Dulac, of the Minetta Lane-Street Association and former owner of the now-shuttered restaurant La Boheme on Minetta Lane.
Dulac said that before COVID there were monthly community meetings in a local church attended by police and local politicians, but the meetings ended during the pandemic.
An NYPD spokesman said the meetings are now held virtually and will be returning to in-person soon, but did not provide a date.
The problem isn’t limited to the Village.
One Lower East Side bar owner, who did not want to be named, said he also needed to hire a third-party security company to keep vagrants away from his customers.
“The drug dealers and panhandlers are very aggressive,” he said. “I have homeless camping out on my stoop.”
Jimmy Rizvi, owner of Gupshup, and Chote Miya, which is currently in Dumbo and opening in Chelsea Market next week, says his Union Square Gupshup has been broken into three times — and that homeless people and drug users are shooting up in their outdoor shed, leaving their used syringes behind.
“There is definitely a rise in crime and homelessness. We never saw this before the pandemic. We need more policing and stricter laws. The police tell us that unless it’s major they won’t even show up. They are too short-staffed,” Rizvi said.