An Upper West Side restaurateur says she has to lay off more than 100 people across her three eateries thanks to the coronavirus pandemic, but to lighten the blow she’s sending each employee off with two week’s worth of food.
“We had some food, but because we only serve fresh food, we bought the food for the employees so we can be assured that they will have food, that they won’t be hungry for two weeks — at least two weeks,” Cristina Castaneda, who owns three restaurants along Columbus Avenue, said Wednesday.
Amid the spread of COVID-19, Castaneda says she was forced to close Café Frida, but will keep open Ella Social and El Mitote for takeout and delivery for the time being.
“We’re preparing for the worst,” said Castaneda, who says she is “devastated” that she has to let go her staff of hosts, servers, busboys, cooks, chefs, dishwashers, delivery workers, managers and some corporate employees.
“These people are going to be on their own as of today, and we fear that they don’t have enough money to survive,” Castaneda said. “And we want to make sure that they’re not hungry for two weeks.”
The restaurateur said that she plans on delivering the heavy bags of food and the last paychecks to her laid-off employees by car on Thursday.
Each food package includes 10 pounds of rice, 10 pounds of dried beans, two boxes of pasta, a bag of powdered milk, six cans of soup, four pounds of dried lentils, two cans of tomato sauce and six cans of peaches.
“We were not ready for this. I don’t think anybody in the world was,” said Castaneda. “I think this is the only safe thing we can do to make sure that our people are not hungry, regardless of whatever happens.”
“Right now we need to think of the basics, which is shelter and food,” she said. “We have to be there for them … this is the least I can do.”
Castaneda says she’ll only keep four employees — two chefs and two general managers– at her remaining restaurants.
“They’re multitasking. They’re cooking. They’re washing dishes. They’re taking orders and entering sales,” said Castaneda, who added, “We don’t have a choice, and this is what our consultants are telling us to do.”
This week, Mayor Bill de Blasio ordered the shutdown of the city’s nightlife and for bars and restaurants to only provide takeout or delivery in order to help stem the spread of the virus.
And as the potentially deadly virus grips the city, mass layoffs are becoming a grim reality for the restaurant industry.
Culinary entrepreneur Danny Meyer’s Union Square Hospitality Group laid off 2,000 employees Wednesday morning “due to a near-complete elimination of revenue,” the restaurant company said in a statement, according to The New York Times.
That makes up 80 percent of the company’s total staff at 18 restaurants in the Big Apple, two in Washington and its Manhattan corporate office, the news outlet reported.
The Union Square Hospitality Group did not immediately respond to a request for comment by The Post.
Celebrity chef Tom Colicchio said this week he had to lay off 300 people at his Crafted Hospitality restaurant group amid the coronavirus outbreak.