On Thursday of last week, Greg Baxtrom and Max Katzenberg, the owners and operators of Brooklyn’s Olmsted and Maison Yaki, saw an urgent need. Sales tax for restaurants was due the next day, and with the mandatory closures, many would be forced to choose between this payment and the payment of their employees. The New York Hospitality Coalition was born, designed to consolidate information and mobilize New York’s operators, managers, guests, and industry employees.
“We started the coalition with the goal of just getting out there and making a ton of noise about having that sales tax deadline postponed, which they ended up doing,” Katzenberg said. After that initial goal was met, the pair realized that the group they had created had an opportunity to do much more.
“The support was so intense and it snowballed to such a point that we realized now we have the opportunity to create a real long-lasting community of operators and our workforce,” Katzenberg said. The Coalition now has over 2,000 subscribers and thousands of followers on Instagram.
“These policy makers are not restaurant owners. Governor Cuomo is not a restaurant owner. They knew what they needed to do, but they didn’t fully understand the ramifications to the hospitality business by shuttering us on Sunday night, and what the true ripple effects were, and that sales tax issue was such a clear example of that,” Baxtrom said.
The coalition has since turned its attention towards the stimulus bill currently making its way through the government. According to them, the current language is devastating to small business owners.
The letter they’ve drafted to the chief of staff for Rep. Hakeem Jeffries reads “Please add back to the bill the clause that caps eligible individual businesses’ parent companies annual revenue at 500M per year, as well as restore the 16 week time period [for forgivable expenses] and operating expenses forgiveness.”
The pair says it’s hard to predict the exact fall-out for New York’s industry, as things are still happening in real time.
“Depending on how the government supports the hospitality industry, it could be 20% closure, it could be 75% closure. Depending on how long this drags on for, depending on how accessible the disaster relief is made to us, and how much cooperation there is amongst the operators themselves. In my opinion, those are gonna be the determining factors,” Katzenberg said.
“We’re asking ourselves if this is headed towards a recession or a depression. We have 250,000 people working in the hospitality industry in New York City. If half of those jobs disappear overnight, that’s an extraordinary amount of people who are now out of the workforce,” Katzenberg said, adding that people are more than willing to fight. “I haven’t heard one operator that’s looking to hang up their hat and shutter. Everyone wants to get back on their feet, everyone wants to get open.”
Katzenberg and Baxtrom say that they are in this to become a resource and help for the small businesses that groups like James Beard and Top 50 may overlook.
“We’re still these people. We’re not a huge company. We’re lucky enough to be nationally known, but Max and I are the only owner-operators here. It’s just us, we don’t have a millionaire as a safety net, or an HR company and all this stuff. Everything comes from and out of Max and I’s thought process and pockets. We know how hard it is,” Baxtrom said.
Olmsted has been turned into a temporary relief center, partnered with Maker’s Mark, with to-go dinners and supplies for restaurant workers that were laid off or have had a serious pay reduction. The service began yesterday and will continue into Saturday from 4:00 pm-7:00 pm. After that, the situation will be reassessed and possible extended hours announced.