Photo: @empanada_kingdom

New York City’s proof of vaccine mandate to dine at restaurants — which requires those 12 and older who are dining inside, as well as employees, to provide proof of at least one Covid-19 shot — started being enforced about two weeks ago. While some restaurants welcomed the mandate, others have mixed feelings, while some have taken a strong stand against it. Epicenter-NYC reporter Andrea Pineda-Salgado spoke to three restaurant owners who have vocally opposed the mandate. The following has been edited and condensed for clarity. 

Placida Martinez, Empanada Kingdom, Staten Island

Epicenter-NYC: What’s your stance on the Mayor’s vaccine mandate? 

Martinez: We are a small business, a family-owned business; I have two employees outside of my family. This is difficult for me in the sense that we took out this huge loan to open up a business and then Covid hit and it’s something that we can’t control. Now you have these restrictions and mandates placed on small businesses that in actuality will not survive. You know, a lot of people have their own personal beliefs, whether it be political or religious and some of my employees do not want to get vaccinated. I don’t believe in the vaccine for religious purposes, and I’m not going to make my employees do something that I am not going to do.

Epicenter-NYC: If you were to implement the mandate for a day, do you think you would lose customers or would business be the same?

Martinez: That’s something I’m not even considering doing. It’s not even about the customers, it’s just about a moral right. I’d rather lose my business than have the government dictate to me what I can and cannot do. I have posters, that say ‘we will not discriminate against any customers based on their sex, gender, race, creed, age, vaccinated or unvaccinated.’ And I have a lot of supporters that are for it. It’s not about the people. It’s about me. It’s about my business, it’s about my investment and it’s about my rights as an American. 

Epicenter-NYC: Do you think it would be different if your business was located in another neighborhood of Manhattan?

Martinez: I think if my business was located in Manhattan I would have a harder time, I would have more difficult customers because Manhattan brain is different than Staten Island brain. In Staten Island, we’re fighters in the sense that we’re not going to fall and allow people to tell us what to do. You know, we have some different views, different values.

Mary Josephine Generoso, Pasticceria Rocco, Bay Ridge, Brooklyn

Epicenter-NYC: What’s your stance on the Mayor’s vaccine mandate? 

Generoso: I’m not the type of person that likes to go against the grain. In fact, during Covid we completely complied with all the regulations and the mandates that came out. We were masked, we sanitized, we socially distanced. We had an outside area that was built. I mean, we did everything that we were supposed to do. [When I saw the Mayor speak about the vaccine mandate] my heart sank and I said to [my husband], there’s absolutely no way that I am going to start asking my customers now if they were vaccinated or not vaccinated. The very first thing that came to my mind was that it was completely discriminatory. And how dare the Mayor of New York City ask me to ask my customers if they’ve been vaccinated, and if they hadn’t they cannot sit indoors.

Epicenter-NYC: Some people are just anti-the mandate, they’re not necessarily anti-vaccine, what about you? How did you feel when the vaccine came out? 

Generoso: I have said publicly many times I have not been vaccinated. I have natural immunity. I am constantly getting my blood work done to make sure that I am protected because I obviously do not want to make my customers sick or make anybody in my family sick. I mean, it’s been well over 18 months now, I still have antibodies, so, no, I am not vaccinated.

Epicenter-NYC: What about your customers, are most of them vaccinated? Have you lost any of them because they don’t agree with you?

Generoso: I know that most of my customers are vaccinated. For me, it’s not about the vaccine. It’s about having the Mayor having me do his ‘dirty work’ and having me ask for customers’ vaccination status. Honestly, it’s none of my business. It’s not something that I need to know. I want to know. And it’s not something that I think I should be checking. I think that’s maybe about two customers that I have lost, honestly. In fact, it’s the opposite. I have people coming in here once a day at least, but it’s more like I would say, five to 10 times a day telling me ‘I was never a customer before. But because of your sign, I am, you just got a customer for life.’

Antonio Giaimo, Piu Bella Pizza, East Elmhurst, Queens 

Epicenter-NYC: What’s your stance on the Mayor’s vaccine mandate? 

Giaimo: When they came out with their mandate to check everybody’s card, a lot of my customers, probably between 70 to 75% said, ‘Antonio, we like you, but please do not ask me any personal information. If you ask me the questions, I’m not going to come back.’  Now my customers tell me to my face that if I ask, I’m going to lose them. It’s already hard enough to stay in business, but adding the vaccine mandate, that’s going to cut my customers in half. So how am I going to pay the bills?

Epicenter-NYC: Would you still follow the mandate if your business was, say, in Manhattan where most of the people are already vaccinated? 

Giaimo: I believe that I [don’t have] to ask for your information. If you got your vaccine, that’s good for you. I don’t need to know. I would take this stand no matter where I was, because this is not about me, or because I’m located in Queens. This is about me as a New Yorker, and as a business owner.

Epicenter-NYC: If you had a chance to talk to the Mayor, what would you tell him?

Giaimo: I would tell the Mayor to come and talk to us, come and have a sit down with restaurant owners, because unless you put yourself in our shoes, you will not understand our stance. They think it’s only the financial aspect. It’s not about that, it’s because life has been difficult in general, the vaccine mandate just makes it more difficult. This has been separating the city even more. And people, especially the customers that come in my place, they just want to come in and eat. They don’t want to be harassed with questions.

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