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NYC restaurants cheer as proof of vaccine mandate lifted

Pop the champagne. New York City restaurateurs celebrated Monday, as the Big Apple’s proof of vaccination mandate was lifted for indoor venues. “We’re totally relieved. It’s a relief for myself and I think for the staff. We’re no longer going to be drowning in as much red tape as we were,” Rena Ismail, owner of Oregano in Williamsburg, told The Post. “I feel like we were a bit overextended at times because the staff had to not only serve but also police things, and I’m grateful that they no longer have to do that.” Ismail, who employs a “small staff” of 11 at the Italian restaurant, said workers needing to check vaccine cards at the door made operations “slightly more chaotic” for her busy workers. “I think it was an extra task to the already numerous tasks that they have … it sort of added to that aggravation, and it was difficult,” she said. Stathis Antonakopoulos — the owner of Carnegie Diner and Cafe on the Upper East Side Cafe and Pizza & Shakes on West 57 the Street — told The Post “I am very relieved, happy and ready to finally move on. “Covid was a bad pandemic,” he said. “But now, we have vaccines and we also have cures. Restaurants paid a high price with Covid. Moving away from asking customers for vaccines is a step towards normality.” The Key to NYC program — enacted last summer under ex-Mayor Bill de Blasio and maintained by his successor, Eric Adams — requires that bars, eateries, gyms, movie theaters and other indoor settings verify that all patrons are vaccinated against COVID-19. But last week, Adams announced that he was readying to scrap the vaccine passport program and public school masking requirement barring an unexpected increase in coronavirus cases, and on Friday confirmed the decisions. Adams’ decision came after Gov. Kathy Hochul lifted the state’s business mask mandate in mid-February, and later in the month removed New York’s public school face covering requirement. Businesses that want to keep mandating that customers be inoculated against the virus will be able to keep doing so, the mayor has said. Broadway League, for example, has opted to keep masking and vaccine requirements for its shows. Patrick Hayes, manager of Virgil’s Real BBQ in the neighborhood, said some workers told him they felt less safe without the rule in place. “A few of my servers said they were concerned that we wouldn’t be asking for vax cards anymore. A few of them said they didn’t feel comfortable, and asked if we could keep asking for vax cards. They said they weren’t sure if they’d come in for the shift otherwise,” he told The Post Deanna Hendrickson, cashier at Cipriani Downtown in SoHo, called the mayor’s decision “crazy” and said it came “a little fast.” “We just need vaccinations,” she said. But for Stratis Morfogen — director of operations and co-owner of Brooklyn chophouse in the Financial District — the end to the program couldn’t come soon enough. “We stopped checking weeks ago,” Morfogen told The Post. “The [end of the] mandate is better late than never. Adams is keeping his word to the hospitality industry and that means more to me than anything else.” Stephen Elkins, owner of Forest Hills Station House, said that though the Key to NYC program didn’t hurt his bottom line, it did slow things down at his bar. “It’s a good thing. I think it’s better. I’m OK with it. It really slowed me down checking people at the door, but people also felt more comfortable,” he said. “What’s done is done, I’m happy it’s lifted.” Asked if he considered maintaining the policy of ensuring that all customers were vaccinated against COVID-19 since it didn’t hurt business and it made some customers more comfortable, Elkins responded that he wouldn’t. see also “I don’t think there’s any reason to do that,” he said. “I’m a bar business. Most of the people who are coming to me, they want to be out, they want to have a good time, they want to drink, so if you’re overly concerned and someone doesn’t want to come out because we’re not enforcing a vaccine mandate, they can go somewhere else, as far as I’m concerned.” Granit Dedushi, the manager at Paesano’s of Mulberry Street, said the scrapping of the mandate was another step in a series of recent moves toward the five boroughs returning to its pre-pandemic ways. “I mean, it’s pretty much back to normal now,” he said. “Before we were checking everyone’s IDs and vaccines. So now, basically back to normal. It speeds up the process a little, because we don’t have to stop people at the door and say, show us your vaccine cards. So pretty much back to normal.” Robert Briskin — the owner of Long Island City upscale restaurant American Brass – – said he is “excited to welcome all patrons to our restaurant. He said that, when the Key to NYC program went into effect, the eatery’s “business dropped by 30 percent. “The crisis of that moment is over, and we look forward to returning our business and our city to a pre-Covid era,” he added. For Jimmy Haber, owner of BLT Steak and BLT Prime in Midtown Manhattan, the impact of the shot requirement was relatively minimal for his restaurants in the grand scheme of things. “I think the vaccine mandate lifting is a small part of a bigger picture,” Haber explained. “When people come back to work and tourists come back, that will help. Those are the two biggest factors impacting our business. We don’t think we are not seeing customers because of the vaccine mandate.” The culprit for business being down 50 percent from 2019 at BLT Steak is the dearth of the usual crowds of officer workers in the neighborhood. “Hopefully, it’s a sign of normalcy that will result in tourists and office workers coming back,” he said. Chris McCormack, manager of the Brooklyn Diner near Times Square, shared Haber’s assessment. “I can count on one hand the number of people we’ve turned away for no vaccine card. I can go days without seeing anyone without a vax card, and we stopped asking today,” he told The Post. “I feel like we’re headed in that direction anyway, that business was going to be getting better anyway. We had a great holiday season and the past two weeks were great.” During the first morning restaurants and other indoor venues were no longer required to check for patrons’ vaccination status and public school children in grades K-12 did not have to mask up, Adams took a victory lap in the East Village, where he spoke with store owners and greeted passersby amid unseasonably high temperatures. “People want to believe again in two ways, substantive: what we did today, key NYC lifting, children not wearing masks, etc,” he said. “But they also wanted to believe in a symbolic way.” “You know, they want a mayor that is not aloof, it’s not running around with layers and layers of security that’s willing to realize that he or she is not perfect. “We focus on the negative and not the positive and I just focus on the positive – and this re-energizes me, it’s a beautiful day. It’s sunny out, it’s warm out,” the mayor gushed. “It’s a precursor to the summer, but I got to get my businesses open. … My city has to open so that our city can prosper.” Additional reporting by Bernadette Hogan, Kevin Sheehan and Catalina Gonella

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