March 25, 2020 By Allie Griffin
Two Astoria advocates for small businesses have joined forces to support local restaurants, cafes and bars as the coronavirus pandemic takes hold of New York City.
Neighborhood residents Jaime-Faye Bean and Jonathan Forgash launched “Astoria Together,” an initiative that updates the public on local restaurant hours, takeout and delivery options, while helping Astoria’s mom-and-pop restaurants navigate the rapidly changing situation during the COVID-19 crisis.
The duo had long planned to begin an initiative to assist Astoria’s small business owners in the food and beverage industry navigate the City’s regulations and growing costs — and when the coronavirus crisis forced restaurants to switch to delivery and takeout only, Bean and Forgash jumped into action.
“The COVID crisis was unexpected, but a critical mass of our independent food and beverage businesses have been in crisis for some time,” said Bean, who is also the Executive Director of the Sunnyside Shines Business Improvement District. “The virus has exposed the fragility of this sector, and we are asking neighborhood residents to hold the line and support their local restaurants while we fight for much more comprehensive relief and reform for them.”
The initiative, which launched on March 16, has a dedicated website that lists nearly 250 local restaurants, their hours, phone numbers and if they’re open for delivery and/or takeout. The list includes everything from bars offering cocktails to go, small bagel shops, restaurants with family-sized dinner trays and eateries that offer “make-your-own” kits.
The pair has put their boots to the ground to canvass for more restaurants in the neighborhood — in order to represent a diversity of cuisines and areas of Astoria — as well as keeping restaurants hours and changes up-to-date.
Bean noted that Astorians who want to support their favorite eateries should order directly from the businesses, instead of one of the popular food delivery apps. The apps, she said, often cuts large chunks from the small business’s profits. Ordering directly from the small businesses keeps the money inside the community, in a hyper-local cycle.
Those small restaurants, when they return to profitability, will then donate to the local sports teams and schools and in turn booster the local economy, Bean added.
The group also uses social media to promote the local businesses and amplifies the initiative’s marketing and advocacy on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter.
Behind the scenes, Astoria Together and a team of volunteers provide one-on-one outreach to ensure business owners have support to best weather the current crisis and to build resilience for the future. The group connects business owners with resources for funding, marketing, pro bono legal assistance and more. Forgash is also the co-founder of Queens Dining Club and the Dining for Justice fundraising series.
Bean and Forgash are also part of the core organizing team — together with Katch Astoria owner Roseann McSorley — of Queens Feeds Hospitals, an initiative that supports local restaurants, while providing hospital workers with free meals.
Queens Feeds Hospitals uses crowdfunding to sponsor healthful, delivered meals to health care workers, while partnering with a vetted list of local restaurants and caterers to provide them with a badly needed revenue source during the crisis. The program is currently piloting with Mount Sinai Astoria and hopes to expand to Elmhurst Hospital.
Bean said she was amazed to see restaurants, who are struggling themselves, delivering free meals to hospital workers on their own and Queens Feeds Hospitals will ensure the businesses receive compensation for their efforts.
“We’re fundraising to pay for those meals, so the restaurant is compensated for the production of the food, the delivery, the tip and at the same time, our hardworking hospital personnel get that warm, healthy meal from a local establishment,” Bean said.
Individuals who wish to pledge support to help fund a meal for the Hospital’s critical medical staff can make a pledge by visiting: bit.ly/QueensFeedsHospitals.
Astoria Together is also recruiting volunteers to assist with business outreach, social media, and more. Interested volunteers can reach out to [email protected]. Volunteers with proficiency in multiple languages are especially needed to assist immigrant small business owners.
“It’s a very scary time, but for those of us involved, it’s a feeling that we can do something local to hold the line for these places while we wait for a much larger relief package,” Bean said. “It’s whats keeping us going right now.”