Getting By: B&H Dairy Restaurant
In our new series “Getting By,” Lower East Side residents and business owners share, in their own words, how they’re navigating the new normal of pandemic times. This go-round is with Ola and Fawza Abdelwahed of B&H Dairy.
B&H Dairy Kosher Vegetarian Restaurant is one of the last “dairy” lunch counters in New York City. We’ve been here since 1938 and still serve the same menu of eastern European comfort food like pierogi, blintzes, knish, latkes, stuffed cabbage, soups, breakfast and juices to a very loyal following of generations of customers. Our customers love us and show it.
The last six months have been especially tough and very stressful. As soon as the city closed restaurants in March due to coronavirus, we began a GoFundMe campaign. When we reopened in May, we went from being a cash-only restaurant that did no deliveries to taking credit cards and using delivery apps. We also added tables out front, which can safely seat about a dozen people.
A typical day at B&H is not that different from before, just with fewer customers. We still have to make the food and prepare the orders. There are usually just three of us in the restaurant, with one person fielding delivery orders, another on the grill and another in the kitchen in the back and all of us running food to the tables out front.
The GoFundMe was a great help, thanks to our customers (our “B&H Family”), though there were some snide comments on social media about our campaign, which were hurtful. Some people seem to think we got a huge check from GoFundMe and are just sitting on it figuring out how to spend it.
We went from serving 200 customers a day in early March, to zero customers, and therefore zero income for a full two months. When we reopened for take-out and delivery in mid-May, we were down to 20 customers on a good day, an over 90% loss in business. Even when we were slow those two months, the employees got paid in full. Now, in September, with outdoor seating, we serve as many as 65 customers daily.
We met our GoFundMe goal of $60,000, but it took that money (raised and spent over 5 months) combined together with emptying both of our personal savings accounts (equal to the GoFundMe goal), plus income from take-out and delivery orders in order for us to pay our staff, back rent and utilities, and restock the restaurant, after two months closed, in order to re-open. We let go a longtime employee, which upset many customers, but was a justified decision.
As of this week, our employees, landlord, utilities and all but two vendors are now paid in full. Our personal bank accounts are both at zero. We’re OK for now, but it’s hard to predict how winter will affect our business. Will we lose business due to bad weather and reduced or no outdoor seating or will take-out and delivery continue to increase and make up for the loss of seated customers? We won’t know until we’re there.
Our hope for after this is over is for life to return to how it was before the pandemic, where customers can’t once again be shoulder to should, eating, meeting, and laughing at our counter. Meanwhile, a blintz can’t hurt! – Fawzy and Ola, married owners of B&H Dairy Kosher Vegetarian Restaurant.