Jonah Rosen and Eli Nussbaum didn’t expect to fuse their passions for takeout food and philanthropy.
But the Covid-19 pandemic, which has threatened the survival of eateries across New York City, provided them with the perfect opportunity.
Roommates in their 20s living on the Upper West Side, the two recently launched “On Mondays We Eat Local,” an initiative to support local kosher restaurants struggling with stringent in-door dining restrictions. Once a week the initiative encourages a growing listserv of several hundred subscribers — many of whom belong to BAbayit, a Facebook group for young, religious Jews on the Upper West Side — to order takeout on Mondays from a featured eatery.
Restaurants selected are generally those that do not specialize in takeout cuisine, but tend to be known for their indoor dining experience. Talia’s Steakhouse, Amsterdam Burger Bar and Deli Kasbah have been featured thus far.
“When you save a restaurant, you’re not just saving a building,” said Rosen, 27, who works in the airline industry. “We’re helping support families, jobs — it’s a way to genuinely help people.”
The New York State Restaurant Association estimates that 4,500 eating establishments in NYC permanently shut down as of November 2020.
According to Rosen and Nussbaum, restaurants say they’ve gotten a 50 to 80 percent bump in business on the day they are featured. “That can translate to over $1,000 in business in one night,” said Nussbaum, who is from Long Island and attended the Hebrew Academy of the Five Towns and Rockaway in Lawrence.
Rosen, who describes himself as “hopeless and helpless” in the kitchen, stumbled upon the idea in December during New York’s first blizzard of the season. “I went out to try and find food for myself,” he said. When he stopped at a restaurant that used to be popular among his friends before COVID-19, he was surprised to find the “owner of the place sitting alone in the dark.” When his food was ready, the owner’s son came out of the kitchen to give it to him directly. “He told me mine was the only order they had,” he said.
The roommates were inspired by “The Barstool Fund,” an effort by Dave Portnoy and his edgy Barstool Sports media network to support small businesses in need of a financial lifeline during the pandemic. The Barstool fundraiser — which attracted attention and support from celebrities like Tom Brady, Guy Fieri and Kid Rock — raised $20 million as of last month.
“If Portnoy can do this nationally, we can do our part for the Upper West Side restaurants we love,” said Rosen, who is from Potomac, Maryland and attended the Berman Hebrew Academy in nearby Rockville.
“And honestly, it’s a win, win, win. Great food, supporting small local businesses, and keeping these restaurants open so we have somewhere to eat out when we’ve survived all of this.”