On March 20 the streams of customers grabbing takeout bags and cocktails made the spare, warehouse-style space of Barbuto feel more vibrant than anywhere else in locked-down New York City. Chef-owner Jonathan Waxman surveyed what should have been the resurrection of his sit-down restaurant, which closed in 2019 to reopen in early February in the Meatpacking District. When New York restaurants were ordered to stop table service on March 15, Waxman pivoted to a takeout-only model with a staff of about eight people and a menu including signature dishes such as roast chicken with salsa verde and crispy smashed potatoes with pecorino, along with a handful of wines and cocktails.
“I saw the 1987 Black Friday crash, the AIDS epidemic, the Silicon Valley crash, then 9/11, then Hurricane Sandy. This feels more protracted than anything I’ve seen,” he said on that Friday in New York. “I’ve always said opening a restaurant is like going to war. I was wrong. This is war.” Waxman would lose the battle just five days later, when he chose to give up the take-away service. A spokesman said, “It’s the best decision for him and the team to stay safe and healthy, as well as for the guests.”
Across the Atlantic, Emma Reynolds—the co-owner of the Tonkotsu Group of 12 ramen shops—was also feeling besieged. Like New York, London is a town where the average citizen eats out several times a week. On March 16, Prime Minister Boris Johnson suggested that in response to the spread of the novel coronavirus, everyone should “stop nonessential contact” and avoid pubs, restaurants, and other public places. Immediately, business and income dropped.