Before Phase 2 of Gov. Charlie Baker’s plan to reopen the Commonwealth took effect last Monday, restaurateur Babak Bina had many questions about what it would ultimately mean for his Charles Street business, Bin 26 Enoteca, and other restaurants citywide.
“Whatever the Governor says won’t impact what the Mayor [Martin Walsh] will say, which is somewhat frustrating for us,” said Bina, who with his sister, Azita Bina-Seibel. , also own and operate jm Curley and Bogie’s Place in Downtown Crossing,. “Unfortunately for us, all indications are that we won’t have indoor seating as part of Phase 2.”
Bina feels like he’s now left in limbo while receiving mixed messages from the city and state.
“I don’t understand why there are two different standards potentially,” Bina said. “We’ve heard nothing from the Mayor, but we’re keeping up to speed with the Governor’s mandate for reopening. It comes down to we can’t hold our breath for Charlie Baker to make an announcement when we have to wait on top of that for the Mayor to make his decision.”
Bina added: “In the restaurant industry, we rely on personal experience, as well as sales history and how many dishes we serve on a given night. But we now have no idea what the capacity will be for us, inside or out – never mind the fact we don’t know if people will even come out to dine.”
Bina feels as though he has a leg up, however, since his restaurants already adhere to stringent safety standards.
“Our restaurants already go above and beyond the requirements to keep our guests and staff safe,” he said.
But Bina knows no restaurant is impervious to a fickle economy. “Even somewhat-successful restaurateurs like me might not be able to survive this,” he said.
Most importantly, Bina must consider the livelihoods of his employees.
“Our staff is being drastically impacted because they could come to work and essentially make nothing or not enough to pay their bills,” he said. “Thousands and thousands could potentially be affected by this.”
In the meantime, Bina said he is frustrated by the seeming missed messages he has received regarding the city’s “healthy streets” pilot program, which in part would potentially shut down one of Charles Street’s three traffic lanes to temporarily provide more outdoor seating space for restaurants.
“We understand that the city has stated to the Beacon Hill Business Association they now want to have individual applications for outdoor seating, but we haven’t seen anything but questionnaires,” he said. “The neighborhood by and large is in support of this, but we’re hearing from some city officials they would rather decide on a case-by-case basis.”
If Rhode Island is any indication, though,
Bina is optimistic about the future of the Commonwealth’s restaurants..
“Rhode Island has opened outdoor and indoor seating, and they are doing fine,” he said. “I’ve talked to fellow restaurateurs down there, and the ones with outdoor seating are doing quite well because the weather has been cooperating.”
Bina concluded: “It’s possibly a lifeline, but we live in New England, where we could have 30 days of rain, which would make outdoor seating useless. To me, it’s very similar [to easing up on takeout restrictions]. It’s a band aid at best; it’s not even a lifeline, it’s a string-line.”