The fat radish
Source: Steve Freihon
The fat radish should celebrate its 10th anniversary in October.
But now, after months of uncertainty about its future, the restaurant, known for its farm-to-table British food, is closing its doors forever, joining the numerous New York restaurants that have decided to permanently close.
Running a restaurant in New York has always been difficult, but the pandemic brought many new challenges that some owners found insurmountable. And while sales are slowly recovering from take-out, delivery, and al fresco dining, Toast data shows that average daily revenue for restaurants in New York City is still 68% down on the same period last year, and just 33% behind national declines lag behind. Industry experts estimate that not every third restaurant will reopen.
In July, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo postponed the reopening of Indoor Food indefinitely, which was found to be the killer of The Fat Radish.
"We haven't had smooth sailing over the years, but we never thought about closing it," said managing partner Natalie Freihon, who joined The Fat Radish in 2017. "It's such a special place for us and our neighborhood. We would never have done it." considered closing it unless we felt we couldn't do it justice anymore, and that's how we felt at the time. "
Freihon said they had explored all possible routes to stay afloat. The Fat Radish was not eligible for a Small Business Administration-run disaster loss loan because Freihon's business partner Phil Winser holds a visa.
"It was incredibly disappointing that many visa holders who run restaurants in this immigrant city were not eligible for this funding, which would have made a huge difference to us," she said.
However, the restaurant got a loan from the Paycheck Protection Program to help small businesses stay afloat and hire staff.
"That would help, but if we couldn't open it again, it doesn't really help," Freihon said. "So it got incredibly confusing how to use the money and then obviously wait to see if it goes on."
The original PPP required companies to issue the funding within eight weeks to issue the loan. In June, the deadline was extended to 24 weeks and borrowers were given some additional concessions to help them stay afloat, such as extending the hiring period. But it wasn't enough to save The Fat Radish.
Natalie Freihon, co-owner of The Fat Radish and The Orchard Townhouse
Source: Steve Freihon
"When Cuomo decided that indoor restaurants would be closed indefinitely, we had to think about what that means for us," Freihon said. "How long can we stay closed where it doesn't affect the identity of the restaurant, the space or us financially?"
Outdoor dining wouldn't work for The Fat Radish because of its narrow street space. And while take-out and delivery were an option, Freihon and Winser decided it made more sense to focus all of their efforts on The Orchard Townhouse, the sister restaurant they opened in December that has more outdoor space, and that already Take-out and delivery offered.
Ultimately, in July, they made the decision to permanently close The Fat Radish. Despite their good relationship, their landlord could not wait another six months for rent.
Many other New York restaurants are in a similar situation. The New York City Hospitality Alliance surveyed nearly 500 bar and restaurant operators and found that 83% of those polled couldn't pay their full July rent and 37% didn't pay any rent at all.
Freihon hopes that the pandemic will lead to a change in the way gastronomy works.
"If it were a sustainable industry, where we were operating at the level most independent companies do, we would have had to go through a few months without being completely destroyed," she said. "Now we have the opportunity to look at these problem areas and how we can fix them."
While The Fat Radish won't reopen its Lower East Side location, The Orchard Townhouse will serve a classic dish and accompanying cocktails every week through October prior to its 10th anniversary. Four of The Fat Radish's oldest employees will be working in the popup.
And another Fat Radish location in Savannah, Georgia – a "completely different market" according to Freihon – lives on. Georgia Governor Brian Kemp allowed restaurants to return to indoor dining in May and the Savannah Restaurant resumed operations the following month.
"At that time, we were still under quarantine in New York and nobody went outside," said Freihon.
New York, as the US epicenter of the virus, reopened its economy more slowly and learned from other states and places that had previously reopened. Indoor spaces like bars and restaurants are at greater risk of contracting the virus, especially if social distancing measures are not followed. The World Health Organization admitted in July that Covid-19 could be airborne indoors.
In early July, as cases increased in Georgia, an employee at the Savannah restaurant tested positive for Covid-19 and the site closed for six days before reopening.
In contrast to the Manhattan location, the Savannah restaurant was built in collaboration with the landlord. The fat radish pays a basic rent and a percentage of sales – exactly the kind of deal that every New York operator would now like to do with their landlords, according to Freihon.
Freihon estimates that sales there are around a quarter of sales before the pandemic. The Savannah restaurant industry is used to catering to the millions of tourists who flock to the city each year. Now there are only around 150,000 inhabitants.