Here We Go Again: How One Restaurant in Long Island is Working Through New COVID-19 Restrictions

(Hannah Fitzpatrick/Ithaca Week)

Due to rising positive cases of the COVID-19 pandemic in New York State and throughout the United States, New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo announced in a press briefing Nov. 11 that there will be new restrictions put in place for bars, restaurants, gyms and fitness centers. Starting Friday, Nov. 13, these places are required to close from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. daily. Restaurants will still be allowed to provide curbside, food-only pick-up or delivery after 10 p.m., but will not be permitted to serve alcohol to go. Additionally, all private gatherings are limited to a 10 person maximum.

When Rich Comunale, owner of Momo’s Sports Bar and Grill in Holbrook, NY, first heard of these new restrictions, he said his reaction felt like a case of deja vu. 

“As soon as I got the news, I was like ‘here we go again,’” Comunale said. “We’ve spent months trying to get back where we were, but with these new restrictions, everyone is frustrated. I think everyone just wants this whole thing to be over already.”

Outdoor seating at Momo’s Sports Bar and Grill in Holbrook, NY. (Courtesy of Momo’s Facebook page)

From Lunch Rush to Graveyard Shift

As the owner of Momo’s Sports Bar and Grill, Comunale has been in charge of overseeing operations at the bar for the past 11 years. However, when the first wave of the coronavirus pandemic crashed throughout the United States in March 2020, Comunale said the bar was hit especially hard.

“We first closed down in March for 10 days because one of the managers got sick, and then after that, we were shut down completely until May,” Comunale said. “We didn’t lay off any people, but because of the pandemic, our sales went down by 70 percent.”

One bartender, Chelsey Moreno, has worked at Momo’s for the past 10 years. Though she said that she was not heavily impacted by COVID-19, she said she felt bad for other coworkers who were having a harder time.

“They’re working only a couple of hours now due to the new restrictions to make money,” Moreno said. “Most of them have apartments and phone bills, car bills and whatnot, so it’s definitely going to be a big adjustment for them to work those hours and be able to provide for their families. I’m just hoping that all of this ends quickly because it’s just more money loss and more jobs possibly being lost.”

A group of medical workers holding Momo’s gift cards. (Courtesy of Momo’s Facebook page)

Giving Back, One Day at a Time

Despite recent setbacks, Moreno said that everyone is doing the best they can to keep themselves and their customers. In addition to employee protocols like wearing masks, frequent hand washing and social distancing, there are also new protocols put in place for the restaurant’s customers.

“Because we’re still allowed to have indoor dining, our tables are still at least six feet apart from each other, and you’re only allowed to have four people at most at the tables,” Moreno said. “It’s the same for patrons sitting at the bar. If you’re sitting down, that’s fine, but once you get up, even if it’s to use the restroom, you still have to wear the mask.”

Though these restrictions have only been in place for a short time, some customers, like Jim Fitzpatrick, a car insurance lawyer from Centereach, NY, are not happy about the new changes.

“It’s very difficult to conversate with your friends through the mask, and it’s just not the same,” Fitzpatrick said. “Plus there are restrictions on the number of people that can attend the pub, especially on football days, so some of my colleagues who have not been there in time have been turned away.”

Even though business at Momo’s is still not the same as before the pandemic, that has not stopped the bar from giving back to the community. This year, the bar hosted two gift card fundraisers – one for medical workers at the front lines of the pandemic, and one for the Suffolk County Police Department. For every Momo’s gift card purchased by a customer, the bar matched and donated the same amount to the people or organization they are raising money for. Comunale said that through these fundraisers, they were able to raise and donate approximately $30,000 for medical workers and $4,000 for the police department.

“Everyone’s going through a tough time right now,” Comunale said. “It’s not just me or my employees that this affects; it impacts everyone. I want to help the community in any way I can, so by giving these gift cards, it shows our appreciation to the people who are risking their lives every day, and once everything calms down again, it can bring business back to the bar.”

As coronavirus cases continue to surge, bars and restaurants like Momo’s will continue to face the challenge of staying afloat during the pandemic. However, Moreno said that she hopes that Momo’s and other restaurants in Long Island will find a way to stay positive and keep moving forward.

“I hope that everybody just continues to keep their head up and hopefully be able to make some sort of money to keep themselves afloat,” Moreno said. “Once this passes over, I’m really hoping business goes booming again, for everybody, not just us, all the local businesses, all the restaurants as well around the island. And I hope people just get back up on their feet and that their mentality stays positive, as hard as that may be through all of this.”

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