Kosher foodies are rallying around a Brooklyn eatery that was served a summons for alleged Covid-19 violations.
Under the trending hashtag #OpenTheDoors, the “Great Kosher Restaurant Foodies” Facebook group urged its 60,000 members to order food from Mixed Greens on Coney Island Ave. and support “our local, especially red zone restaurants.”
The pizza and panini spot was served a summons on Tuesday for allegedly violating the rules of the temporary lockdown put in place by New York City officials in select Zip codes earlier this month to prevent further spread of the virus.
The citation accused cafe manager Mike Green of failing to “keep the store closed for pedestrian and customer traffic.” Restaurants located within a red zone are restricted to takeout only or subject to a fine.
Green told The Jewish Week there was “absolutely no one” in his restaurant when he received the summons for civil penalties from an inspector who identified himself as a member of the NYC Department of Consumer Affairs.
According to Green, the violation has since been removed. The NYC Department of Consumer Affairs did not respond to a request for comment.
Green, who “felt like something wasn’t right,” decided to record the inspector who was giving him the summons. He posted the video and the story went viral. Support poured into the restaurant, with consumers from far-flung spots, including Arkansas and Los Angeles, placing orders not intended for pick-up to lend emotional and financial support.
“I’m heading to ‘Mixed Greens’ now in Brooklyn. Stay tuned as I proudly walk into the cafe, with a mask on of course,” Elan Kornblum, founder of the Great Kosher Restaurant Foodies Facebook group, posted Wednesday morning
The story served as a lightning rod example of what small businesses are up against during the Covid-19 era. Mayor de Blasio’s latest executive order instructed businesses and schools in nine New York City Zip codes to return to phase one lockdown measures. Nearly all of the Zip codes delineated as “red zones,” indicating a high level of positive Covid-19 cases, have high populations of Orthodox Jews.
“The most frustrating thing here is the fact that he [the inspector] told me to go ahead and close my doors and I know many other restaurant owners would have,” said Green. “I decided to ask questions and fight for my rights. But other places might have thought ok, I have to shut my doors. Especially during this time, when business is down like crazy, a violation like this could mean the [end] for a small business.”
The day after the video was posted, Green said the restaurant sold out of nearly all its menu items. “Sometimes, the best things happen when you don’t expect them.”
Kornblum, who has doubled down on efforts to connect and support kosher businesses over the last six months, said the hashtag “#OpenTheDoors” was meant to refer to “far more than just the summons.” “It’s about supporting your local businesses all over New York,” he said. (Kornblum has worked as a liaison between restaurants and kosher consumers for the past 17 years.)
Green is not the only kosher restaurant owner struggling to make it work during the pandemic. Danny Branover, the head of Basil Hospitality Group, which owns and operates three kosher restaurants in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, said his businesses have been subject to inspections “every day,” and often by more than one inspector. Branover’s businesses are not in a Covid-19 red-zone and have been able to continue accommodating outdoor diners.
“Inspectors are coming every day from different city agencies,” said Branover, who runs the kosher Italian eatery Basil just north of Eastern Parkway. “They measure how close our outdoor tables are to the crosswalk, they ask for our mask-sticker and sanitizer. Every day we show it to them,” he said. “The biggest challenge is the unknown and the hysteria. The politicization of every detail is making it hard for customers to come and enjoy a meal.”