And just like that, Gov. Andrew Cuomo let go of his iron grip on office, offering up his resignation after an investigation found that he sexually harassed 11 women. Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul will assume office, becoming the first female governor of New York.
Still not exactly sure how to make sense of the gubernatorial drama? Check out this explainer from our politics reporter, Felipe De La Hoz.
Now, back to regularly scheduled content: While NYC’s dining scene is once again alive (albeit employees and indoor diners will soon be required to have at least one vaccine dose) you may have noticed that some things — your extra side of ketchup or drink refill — are taking a bit longer than they used to.
New York City — along with much of the country — has been experiencing a restaurant worker shortage. While management scrambles to fill perpetually open positions, service staff, typically at the bottom of the food chain, have seen the power balance shift in their favor as they are no longer easily replaceable.
Epicenter-NYC reporter Andrea Pineda-Salgado spoke with Yamila Ruiz of One Fair Wage — an organization, coalition and campaign committed to raising wages for tipped or sub-minimum wage workers — and veteran hospitality workers Emily Childers and Tommie Dinh to learn more about what it’s like to be a server in a post (or should we say ongoing) Covid world.
Why are servers leaving?
According to a recent report by One Fair Wage, around half of New York City food service workers are considering leaving their job. Ruiz said there are many reasons for this staggering number, including low wages, Covid-related health risks and harassment.
“Every year the Department of Labor puts out the lowest paying jobs in America,” she said. “And every year, about seven of 10 of those jobs are restaurant workers and many of them are tipped restaurant worker jobs as well.”
Many restaurant workers make a “tipped minimum wage,” which is less than the standard minimum wage most people are familiar with — $10 an hour as opposed to $15. The pandemic and all of its implications — social distancing, outdoor dining only, restricted hours — have made it nearly impossible for service staff to reach their pre-Covid levels of income.
“Servers were being called back to work and having to enforce social distancing from the same customers for whom they are supposed to get tips to survive,” Ruiz said. “But tips were down significantly and customer hostility and harassment was at an all time high.”
Emily Childers, who works at a restaurant in the Upper East Side, said that many of her long-time coworkers never returned.
“There were a lot of long-term servers at my restaurant pre-pandemic that were kind of looking for an out, and so this kind of clean slate that the pandemic brought for a lot of people,” Childers said. “I think it gave people the opportunity and the time and the unemployment money to kind of get themselves on their feet and go in a different direction.”
Additionally, Ruiz tells us that many servers don’t want to return because of the harassment they’ve faced working in the restaurant industry.
One Fair Wage last year published a report called “Take Off Your Mask So I Know How Much to Tip You,” that found that many service industry workers reported “a dramatic change in sexual harassment during the pandemic.”
The report, Ruiz said, “is based on stories of women from all over the country who we are hearing from, who are being told by customers to pull down their mask, because that way customers could decide on how much to tip them. This is just like one example. But we heard thousands and thousands of stories of women in New York specifically putting up with all sorts of customer hostility and harassment to earn a living.”
In case you missed it
Some of our top stories from last week: Epicenter-NYC reporter Andrea Pineda-Salgado spoke with halal cart vendor Hani Waly about the challenges he’s faced throughout the pandemic, plus a feel-good story about a lost “Lovey” and the power of mothers.
AT YOUR LEISURE …
Every week, neighbor and author Radha Vatsal will be providing her recommendations for what to read and watch throughout the summer.
I can’t wait for the conclusion of The White Lotus, which airs this Sunday, Aug. 15 at 9 p.m. on HBO. The limited (six episode) series is set at a luxury resort in Hawaii by the same name. Part of me feels like I’m on vacation while I’m watching it. But if it’s a vacation, it’s a strange one since the guests at the resort don’t seem to be enjoying themselves, at least not in a conventional sense.
There’s the family of four — insecure dad, business tycoon mom, awkward teenage son, catty college-student daughter and her introspective friend. There’s the alcoholic traveling with her mother’s ashes, and the newly wedded couple on their honeymoon — a pushy husband and his journalist bride who already thinks she might have made a mistake. Then there’s the hotel staff — the anxious manager who’s a recovering alcoholic, a spa manager with a dream of starting her own wellness center, and the native Hawaiian who is having an affair with one of the guests.
The unsettling score by composer Cristobal Tapia de Veer adds to the dysfunctional atmosphere and the sense of lives fraying at the edges. The series writer and director, Mike White (School of Rock, Enlightened), hired Tapia de Veer to create music “that makes you feel like there’s gonna be some kind of human sacrifice at some point.” Tapia de Veer describes the soundtrack as “Hawaiian Hitchcock.” I, for one, keep hearing it in my head. If you’re in a binge-watching mood, you can catch up in time to watch what promises to be a dramatic and entertaining finale.
ON THE POD
Make sure you have a listen to our latest episode to hear from the women behind 21 in ’21, a movement dedicated to achieving full representation for womxn in local government. Tune in tomorrow for a conversation with David Woodlock, the outgoing president and CEO of the Institute for Community Living, about Covid-19 and its impact childrens’ mental health.
OUT & ABOUT
Can’t go to Europe? Bring Europe to you
Romero, a new European-style grocery and deli in Cobble Hill, Brooklyn, is the brainchild of native Venezuelan and former arepa restaurant owner, Monica Muzzo Romero. The shelves are stocked with important gourmet treats (fancy sea salt, tinned seafood, spices, chocolates and more) and the refrigerators full of artisan cheese and charcuterie. Romero also sells freshly made sandwiches, antipasto boards and dessert, plus homemade paella on Sundays. Anything purchased can be eaten in the deli’s outdoor seating area, which also happens to be BYOB. Learn more.
Culture on the waterfront
The Culture Lab LIC, a nonprofit dedicated to supporting the efforts of local artists and community programming, has live music at its epic outdoor space each Thursday through Sunday. This week, stop by for a concert followed by a screening of “Reemergence,” a short musical fantasy celebrating Pride on Thursday, Aug. 12. While you’re there, be sure to check out the Plaxall Gallery’s latest exhibit, “House of Mark West.” The show features paintings, photography, sculpture and installation art from artists of color across New York City from the House of Mark West Artist Collective. The Mark West Artist Collective is Black-owned and aims to provide exposure and advocacy for underrepresented artists. It caters primarily to Black, Brown, LGBTQ, disabled and young (K-12) artists and creatives. The show runs through Aug. 29. Learn more about ongoing programming from Culture Lab as well as volunteer opportunities.
After being starved of live music for a year, we can’t get enough of it. Check out Saturday Sets at West 13th and Washington Streets in the Meatpacking District, from 6:30 to 9:15 p.m. every Saturday through the end of the month. Learn more.
GIVE & GET HELP
UNITED SIKHS monthly food distribution
Fresh produce, protein and shelf-stable items will be distributed to those in need this Saturday, Aug. 14, from 12 to 2 p.m. at 222-31 96th Ave. in Queens Village. Bring your own cart/bags.
The Excluded Workers Fund
New York State has opened up the $2.1 billion fund to help undocumented and nontraditional workers who lost their income due to Covid-19 and were not eligible for unemployment insurance. There are two tiers of compensation based on the documents provided: Tier one is $15,600, which is what one would have earned through unemployment insurance in the past year and tier two is $3,200, equivalent to the amount of the stimulus checks. If you are the owner of a business that employed people who are eligible for the Excluded Workers Fund, Epicenter-NYC volunteers created a template you can fill out to help them verify their eligibility. If you are an eligible worker, you can learn more and apply for funds here.
Curbside composting signup
After a Covid-induced hiatus, the city’s curbside compost service will resume this fall on a rolling basis, based on the number of sign ups in your community — so tell your neighbors! Your food scraps, food-soiled paper and yard waste will be used for compost or to create renewable energy. Sign up here.
School supply drive
In-person or remote, it’s that time of the year again. The Astoria Free Store is hosting a supply driver to help kiddos start school prepared. Donate pencils, pens, binders, folders and more at its location at 25-82 Steinway St. in Astoria on Wednesday, Aug. 11, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Thursday, Aug. 12, from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m., Friday, Aug. 13 from 12 to 5 p.m. and Saturday, Aug. 14 from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Spanish-speaking volunteers needed
Brooklyn Ayuda Mutua is urgently looking for Spanish-speaking volunteers to help with the phones as they face an overwhelming influx of callers. Sign up to volunteer here.
Assemblymember Zohran Mamdani is hiring
Mamdani, whose district emcompasses Astoria and Long Island City in Queens, is hiring a part-time office manager and case worker. The job, which is geared toward someone committed to social justice issues, pays $26/hour and includes full benefits. Priority will be given to applicants from the district and those who speak Spanish, Bangla or Greek in addition to English. The application deadline is Friday, Aug. 13. Learn more.
The historic village of Greenport may be a two-hour drive from the city, but the things you’ll pass along the way will make the time fly, and possibly prompt several pit stops. The stretch known as the North Fork is lined with excellent farm stands, many a vineyard (and tasting opportunities) and some of the best ice cream around. There’s also plenty of water courtesy of the Long Island Sound and Peconic Bay.
As for Greenport itself, there’s something for everyone. The centerpieces of the main green on the harbor are a 100-year-old carousel, and a less obvious camera obscura, which can be entered by appointment. From there you’ll catch the whiff of Aldo roasting his own coffee and making a nearly legendary biscotti. Main Street is lined with vintage stores, the gem here is the Opportunity Shop. The others can be well, a little hip and precious but still fun to browse.
Clustered together a bit off the main drag is a ship building yard with ample texture, the old jail, and the Greenport Brewing Company. Somehow they all fit together. Don’t forget fresh seafood. My rec is the no-nonsense fare at Hook and Net supplied by Alice’s Fish Market, though there are many options to pamper oneself. Last tip: Take a hike.
We want to see, hear, feel, support your art and response to this moment. To submit a poem, short story, artwork or any shareable experience, email us. If your work is selected, you will receive a $100 stipend and become part of our growing network of artists.
This week we welcome artist Jaishri Abichandani. Abichandani was born in Bombay, India, in 1969, and immigrated to New York City in 1984. She founded the South Asian Women’s Creative Collective to create spaces for feminist artistic production. Abichandani has exhibited her work internationally including at MoMA P.S.1, the Queens Museum, the Asia Society, the IVAM in Valencia, House of World Cultures in Berlin, among others.
Abichandani’s work encompasses creating objects, exhibitions and culture. She received her MFA from Goldsmiths College, University of London. Abichandani served as the founding director of public events and projects from 2003-6 at the Queens Museum, where she connected with local communities and organized exhibitions. Abichandani also organized a trilogy of exhibitions to inaugurate the Ford Foundation Gallery in 2019.
“A quest for social justice lies at the heart of my sprawling practice. Deeply inspired by Black, queer, feminist and craft art forms, I make work rooted in love to create equity. As an immigrant, South Asian feminist cultural producer, I have devoted over two decades to developing my studio practice along with creating the support structures necessary for my peers to become visible in the art world. There is a seamlessness to my creative vision as an artist and curator by centering the powerful voices of those on the margins, celebrating our resilience and strength. My art is an extension of and vehicle for my commitment to social change.
The art I produce in the studio synthesizes the aesthetic languages of South Asia with contemporary socio political concerns. Developing whatever technical skills I need to execute the work as I go along, I employ humor and a hand crafted baroque aesthetic of embellishment and ornamentation to seduce viewers into contemplating topical questions of conscience posed by our dysfunctional society.”