Joe Germanotta, the owner of New York City's Joanne Trattoria, is speaking out about the "mixed messages" he feels government officials are sending business owners as COVID-19 continues to trouble the food and beverage industry.
Germanotta, who is the father of pop superstar Lady Gaga, said in an interview with FOX Business this week that the restrictions placed on restaurants are causing business owners like him headaches.
"The restrictions are still checking vaccine cards and IDs, employees have to wear masks and all employees need to be vaccinated so we have to keep that in the book in case the Health Department or somebody stops by," Germanotta said.
Germanotta, who has owned the homestyle Italian eatery in Manhattan’s Upper West side for 11 years, says he’s followed all the protocols. However, he’s left wondering why politicians like New York City Mayor Eric Adams and President Biden are cracking down on some restrictions but vague about others.
"I mean, we’ve really not gotten any full guidance on if we still need to use paper menus…Do we still need to use paper napkins? Everybody’s doing their own thing. You go from restaurant to restaurant and everything’s different. There’s really no rhyme or reason to it," he said.
With variants like omicron becoming the talk of the nation and the world in recent months, Germanotta took matters into his own hands in order to ensure his staff is healthy and able to work under the government’s guidance.
"I test my guys once a week," he said of his efforts. "I paid $1,500 for 400 testing kits. I do the same thing for tables now. If patrons spend $75 they get a free at-home testing kit."
Still, Germanotta is growing increasingly frustrated with the government’s communication. He claims the statements officials are putting out to citizens are "scaring people away" from dining out, thus, impacting his and hundreds of other NYC businesses trying to stay afloat.
Germanotta said he’s seen a striking reduction in the number of reservations at Joanne’s. Last fall, he eliminated lunch on Mondays and Tuesdays and is contemplating extending that to Wednesdays. The restaurateur is also wondering if it’s worth it to leave his business open on Monday and Tuesday nights for dinner.
"I don’t think it has much to do with the variants," Germanotta said of the decline in diners. "The government is scaring people to the point they’re not going out. With all these rules it’s no wonder people aren’t coming in."
"Granted, it’s been cold in New York City the last couple of weeks, but before Joe Biden took office, we were screaming busy," he said.
Germanotta has had other minor challenges to face as a business owner. He had no option but to close down his restaurant in November and December because of a gas leak, requiring some additional work to the building.
Germanotta and his staff members were also recently working on installing insulation in the restaurant’s ceilings because of the cold weather, hence the reason for photographs he supplied of him and a coworker in full white hazmat suits.
This week marks the start of Restaurant Week in New York City. Adams recently said in a statement he was "pleased" to bring back the city’s "Winter Outing."
"In New York City, we like to combine the very best of what we have to offer," said Mayor Adams in a statement. "What better way to celebrate our city than by supporting our incredible restaurants, hotels, Broadway shows, and attractions. Thanks to vaccinations and testing, we can bring our city back stronger than ever and enjoy everything that makes this place the greatest city in the world."
Germanotta says he isn’t buying into it. He’s "disappointed" by Adams and believes he should focus on the city’s crime rate instead.
"I thought he was going to be the hero that fixes the crime problem and helps out the business community. I’m not impressed with this guy at all," Germanotta said.
Ultimately, his take is this: "It’s the blind leading the blind. The government is scaring people from going out and coming to New York. Even the tourists have dropped off."
He added that there are four other Italian eateries in a four-block radius from his business and at least 2 Mexican establishments. "They have good food. I’ve walked past these places and they’re empty."
In addition to the struggle that the pandemic brings, Germanotta said he’s now facing an increase in food prices and when it comes to buying liquor, "Forget about it. They’re out of stock."
"I have never experienced this in my 11 years. It’s a rollercoaster ride. I attribute it to the mixed messaging, number one. It’s frightening people, and I attribute it to the crime that’s taken place."
Germanotta lent some advice to Adams. "Cracking down on crime should be the number 1 priority. I think less crime would get people back on the subways. Even the trains are empty with all that’s been happening."
Plus, restaurant extensions that popped up all over the city when outdoor dining became one of the few options in the early pandemic days has prevented parking for visitors driving in, he said.
Germanotta took down Joanne’s outdoor extension a couple months ago.