WILL THE ICONIC CENTRAL PARK BOATHOUSE SHUT DOWN THIS FALL?

One of New York City’s most iconic restaurants, the Loeb Boathouse in Central Park, is set to close its doors this October, after over almost 40 years of operation.  Manhattan’s only lakeside restaurant has cited rising costs of both labor and goods as the reason for shutting down, proving that even New York City’s landmark institutions are not immune from the challenges bars and restaurants have faced over the last few years.  Andrew Rigie, Executive Director of the New York City Hospitality Alliance joins us to discuss the future of the boathouse.

Aired: September 27, 2022

TRANSCRIPT

> GOOD EVENING, AND WELCOME TO 'METROFOCUS.'

I'M JENNA FLANAGAN.

ONE OF NEW YORK CITY'S MOST ICONIC RESTAURANTS, THE LOBE BOATHOUSE IN CENTRAL PARK IS CLOSING ITS DOORS THIS OCTOBER AFTER ALMOST 40 YEAR OF OPERATION, MANHATTAN'S ONLY LAKESIDE RESTAURANT THAT CITED RISING COSTS OF LABOR AND GOODS AS THE REASON FOR SHUTTING DOWN, PROVING THAT EVEN NEW YORK CITY'S LANDMARK INSTITUTIONS ARE NOT IMMUNE FROM THE CHALLENGES BARS AND RESTAURANTS HAVE FACED OVER THE PAST FEW YEARS.

FANS OF THE BOATHOUSE NEED NOT WORRY TOO MUCH, THOUGH, AS NEW YORK CITY PARKS DEPARTMENT IS CURRENTLY SEARCHING FOR A NEW OPERATOR TO TAKE OVER AND KEEP THE RESTAURANT AND SNACK BAR IN BUSINESS.

AND JOINING ME NOW TO TALK ABOUT THE IMPORTANCE OF THE LOBE BOATHOUSE TO CENTRAL PARK, THE SURROUNDING NEIGHBORHOOD, AND THE NEW YORK CITY HOSPITALITY INDUSTRY AS A WHOLE IS ANDREW RIDGE JI, THE EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR OF THE NEW YORK CITY HOSPITALITY ALLIANCE.

WELCOME TO 'METROFOCUS,' ANDREW.

THANKS SO MUCH FOR HAVING ME.

SO, FIRST OFF, LET'S TALK ABOUT THE ANNOUNCEMENT OF THIS CLOSING.

FIRST OF ALL, DID THIS CATCH YOU OFF GUARD?

WAS THIS SOMETHING THAT MAYBE FIT INTO THE TRENDS THAT YOU ARE SEEING HAPPENING FOR OTHER RESTAURANT BUSINESSES?

WELL, WE KNOW THAT THE PANDEMIC HAS JUST BEEN ABSOLUTELY DEVASTATING FOR NEW YORK CITY'S RESTAURANT INDUSTRY.

WE'RE STILL ABOUT 50,000 JOBS SHORT IN OUR RESTAURANTS AND BARS COMPARED TO PREPANDEMIC LEVELS.

THOUSANDS OF OUR FAVORITE SPOTS HAVE BASICALLY SHUT THEIR DOORS AND MANY ARE STRUGGLING.

WHEN YOU HEAR ABOUT A RESTAURANT CLOSING OR ABOUT TO CLOSE, IT DOESN'T COME AS A TOTAL SURPRISE, BUT THE LOBE BOATHOUSE, AN ICONIC NEW YORK CITY RESTAURANT, AND IT JUST GOES TO SHOW, EVEN THESE ICONIC RESTAURANTS CAN STILL CLOSE.

I MENTIONED IN THE INTRO ITS SIGNIFICANCE NOT JUST FOR ITS INFAMY IN CENTRAL PARK, BUT ALSO THE SURROUNDING COMMUNITY.

CAN YOU TELL US ABOUT THE RIPPLE EFFECT THAT THE PRESENCE OF THE BOAT HOUSE HAS HAD ON THE SURROUNDING COMMUNITY, CENTRAL PARK, AND THE RESTAURANT INDUSTRY IN.

YEAH, WELL, THOUSANDS AND THOUSANDS AND THOUSANDS OF PEOPLE GO TO CENTRAL PARK, AND ONE OF THE THINGS THEY WANT TO SEE IS THE BOATHOUSE.

YOU KNOW, WHEN PEOPLE COME FROM AROUND THE GLOBE THE NEW YORK CITY, THEY GO TO THE EMPIRE STATE BUILDING.

THEY GO INTO CENTRAL PARK.

THEY WANT TO SEE THE BOATHOUSE, SO THERE'S A WHOLE SOCIAL AND ECONOMIC FACTOR THAT PLAYS INTO THIS RESTAURANT.

PEOPLE GO THERE TO VISIT.

THEY GO THERE TO EAT.

THE WEDDINGS, THE MEMORIES THAT HAVE BEEN CREATED AT THIS ICON YOU CAN RESTAURANT REALLY CAN'T BE OVERSTATED.

IT'S AN IMPORTANT PLACE, AND WHEN PEOPLE GO THERE, THEY -- EVEN IF THEY'RE NOT EATING AT THE RESTAURANT, THEY'RE STOPPING AND GETTING A HOT DOG IN THE PARK.

THEY'RE STOPPING AT OTHER RESTAURANTS AND OTHER BUSINESSES AND SPENDING MONEY AROUND THE CENTRAL PARK AREA.

SO IT DOES HAVE A MUCH LARGER ECONOMIC IMPACT, AND IT ALSO HAS THIS TYPE OF DRAW, AS I MENTIONED BEFORE, THAT BRINGS PEOPLE THERE, BRINGS THE FOOT TRAFFIC.

AND IT'S JUST ONE OF THE OTHER BEAUTIFUL, ICONIC SPACES THROUGHOUT NEW YORK CITY THAT REALLY MAKES US WORLD RENOWNED.

YOU MENTION THE WEDDINGS, AND THIS ANNOUNCEMENT OF COURSE CAME OUT A FEW WEEKS AGO, BUT AS ANYONE WHO'S PLANNED A WEDDING IN NEW YORK CITY GOES, IF YOU'RE PLANNING A WEDDING AND BOOKING A LOCATION, YOU'VE DONE THAT MONTHS IN ADVANCE.

SO, FOR PEOPLE WHO ARE PLANNING TO HAVE WEDDINGS, WEDDING RECEPTIONS, ET CETERA, AT THE BOAT HOUSE, DO YOU KNOW WHAT BECOMES OF THEIR SITUATION?

THIS IS GOING TO BE A DIFFICULT SITUATION.

THE CITY RESTAURANT INDUSTRY WENT THROUGH SOMETHING NOT TOO DIFFERENT DURING COVID WHEN PEOPLE HAD ALL THESE PARTIES AND WEDDINGS BOOKED AND THEY HAD TO DO MASS CANCELLATION.

I DO KNOW THE RESTAURANT PUT OUT A STATEMENT, SAID THEY'RE GOING TO DO THEIR BEST TO WORK WITH EVERYONE WHO HAD WEDDINGS OR OTHER EVENTS PLANNED AT THE BOATHOUSE, BUT THEN THEY WILL BE CLOSING, SO PRESUMABLY THEY WILL BE GIVING BACK REFUNDS, WORKING HOPEFULLY WITH PEOPLE TO MAKE DIFFERENT TYPES OF PLANS.

THE CHALLENGE IS, IF YOU'RE PLANNING TO GET MARRIED IN THE LOBE BOAT HOUSE, THERE IS NOT ANOTHER SIMILAR TYPE OF VENUE ANYWHERE AROUND HERE WHERE YOU CAN RECREATE THAT MAGIC.

WE HAVE TON OF OTHER BEAUTIFUL PLACES TO GET MARRIED BUT THERE'S SOMETHING VERY UNIQUE, SPECIAL, AND VERY ONE OF A KIND AT THE LOBE BOATHOUSE.

WELL, I ALSO WANT TO TALK A LITTLE BIT ABOUT THE ECONOMIC FORCES THAT LED TO THIS.

THEY'RE MULTILAYERED.

BUT I WANT TO START WITH, ACTUALLY, THE WORK FORCE, PERHAPS.

BECAUSE THERE HAS BEEN SOME PUSHBACK, AS WE'RE GOING THROUGH THIS PERIOD OF REEVALUATING WORKERS AND HOW THEY'RE PAID AND HOW THEY WORK, ET CETERA, THAT SOME PEOPLE HAVE SAID, YOU KNOW, IF WORKERS CAN ONLY BE PAID, YOU KNOW, MINIMUM WAGE OR IMMIGRANT CLOSE TO THAT -- BECAUSE OF COURSE THE RESTAURANT INDUSTRY, IT'S A DIFFERENT WAGE -- THEN THAT WASN'T A SUCCESSFUL BUSINESS.

BUT I WANT TO GET YOUR TAKE ON HOW THE ECONOMIC FORCES IMPACT THIS UNIQUE NEW YORK BUSINESS.

YEAH, SO LABOR COSTS CONTINUED THE GO UP.

EVEN THE MOST SUCCESSFUL ONES FOR THE MOST PART ARE SMALL BUSINESSES.

THERE'S NOT A LOT OF ADDITIONAL MONEY TO SIGNIFICANTLY INCREASE WAGES WHEN YOU COMPARE IT TO OTHER INDUSTRIES LIKE TECH FOR EXAMPLE OR FINANCE.

SO THAT'S ONE OF THE CHALLENGES.

AND WE'VE SEEN LABOR GO UP BECAUSE THERE IS A SHORTAGE OF WORKERS THAT HAVE COME BACK TO THE CITY'S RESTAURANT INDUSTRY.

LE REALLY, WAGES FOR ALL POSITIONS ACROSS THE BOARD HAVE GONE UP.

THE OTHER THING WE'VE SEEN IS THE INFLATION COSTS.

IT'S SKYROCKETING.

YOU'RE SEEING 100%, 200% INCREASES.

I WAS JUST TALKING TO A RESTAURATEUR THE OTHER DAY, AND HE SAID, THEY USED THE PAY $80 OR SO FOR GLOVES.

THE MARIAS, GLOVES THAT SOME OF THE COOKS USE IN THE KITCHEN.

NOW IT'S DOUBLED, MORE THAN DOUBLE IN THE PRICE.

THIS IS ACROSS THE BOARD, ALL THE FOOD PRODUCTS.

SO IT'S PUTTING PRESSURE ON BUSINESSES, AND PARTICULARLY AT A PLACE LIKE THE BOATHOUSE, WHERE ALSO SIMILARLY YOU HAD THE UNION AT TAVERN ON THE GREEN, THE COST FOR LABOR TENDS TO BE EVEN HIGHER THAN IN A NONUNION RESTAURANT.

SO THERE'S DEFINITELY A LOT OF WAGE PRESSURE, BENEFIT PRESSURES, BUT EVEN THE OWNER OF THE BOATHOUSE SAID IT WAS REALLY SUCCESSFUL.

THEY HAD PARTIES BOOKED.

THEY HAD CUSTOMERS.

IT WASN'T A LACK OF BUSINESS.

IT WAS JUST, YOU KNOW, THE COMBINATION OF LABOR AND THE COST OF GOODS THAT HAVE ALL GONE UP AND APPARENTLY IT JUST DIDN'T MAKE IN HIS POSITION, THE BUSINESS ECONOMICALLY VIABLE TO CONTINUE, UNFORTUNATELY.

YOU KNOW, CONSIDERING THE FACT THAT THE BOATHOUSE BEING, AS WE'VE DISCUSSED, JUST SO ICONIC TO NEW YORK AND CENTRAL PARK, AND BEING SORT OF LIKE AN EXAMPLE OF WHAT SO MANY OTHER BUSINESSES -- RESTAURANTS, I SHOULD SAY, ARE STRUGGLING WITH IN THIS MOMENT, IS THIS SOMETHING WHERE THE HOSPITALITY ALLIANCE FEELS AS THOUGH THERE SHOULD BE SOME SORT OF SUPPORT COMING IN FROM EITHER THE STATE OR THE CITY OR SOMETHING ELSE?

SOMETHING TO HELP THESE BUSINESSES?

BECAUSE THEY ARE THE FABRIC OF NEW YORK.

CERTAINLY.

YOU KNOW, WE HAVE BEEN SAYING THIS BEFORE THE PANDEMIC, BUT I THINK COVID REALLY PUT IT FRONT AND CENTER THAT OUR RESTAURANTS, OUR BARS, OUR CULTURAL ESTABLISHMENTS ARE VITAL TO THE ECONOMIC FOUNDATION, BUT ALSO THE CULTURAL FABRIC OF OUR CITY, AND SO MANY OF THESE LOCAL BUSINESSES DID NOT GET ADEQUATE SUPPORT.

IN FACT, 65% OF RESTAURANTS IN NEW YORK WERE SHUT OUT OF THE FEDERAL RESTAURANT REVITALIZATION FUND, OR THE RRF, BECAUSE THE MONEY WAS COMPLETELY EXHAUSTED.

THERE WAS SO MUCH DEMAND.

AND UNFORTUNATELY AND SHAMEFULLY, IN MY OPINION, THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT WHEN GIVEN THE OPPORTUNITY DID NOT REPLENISH IT.

SO I DON'T KNOW EXACTLY HOW THAT PLAYED IN, IF THE BOATHOUSE RECEIVED THE RRF MONEY OR NOT, BUT THERE ARE SO MANY EXAMPLES AROUND THE CITY OF RESTAURANTS THAT ARE REALLY STRUGGLING, AND THE INCREASE IN LABOR, THAT'S GOOD.

WE WANT OUR WORKERS TO BE EARNING MORE, BUT WE ALSO WANT THE RESTAURANTS TO BE ABLE TO STAY IN BUSINESS.

AND WE ALSO HOPE THAT THE COST OF GOODS WILL START COMING BACK DOWN SO A LOT OF THESE BUSINESSES WILL BE ABLE TO RECOVER.

BUT DUE TO THE PANDEMIC, DUE TO THE NATURE OF THE BUSINESS, WHICH IS SO DIFFICULT, IT'S GOING TO BE TOUGH FOR A LOT OF THESE RESTAURANTS, PARTICULARLY THOSE THAT DIDN'T GET ADEQUATE GOVERNMENT SUPPORT OAF THE PAST TWO AND A HALF YEARS TO COME OUT OR EMERGE SUCCESSFULLY AS WE HOPEFULLY EMERGE OR CONTINUE TO EMERGE FROM THE WORST OF THE PANDEMIC.

OF COURSE, OF COURSE.

WELL, LET'S TALK LOOKING FORWARD.

AND I ALSO MENTIONED THAT THERE IS A SEARCH UNDER WAY TO FIND SOMEONE NEW TO TAKE OVER.

COULD THIS PERHAPS BE A SEAMLESS THING WHERE THE RESTAURANT'S CLOSED FOR A WEEK IN OCTOBER AND OPENS UNDER NEW MANAGEMENT, OR IS THIS GOING TO TAKE TIME TO FIND THE RIGHT BUSINESS?

YOU KNOW, I HOPE IT HAPPENS AS FAST AS POSSIBLE.

THESE THINGS CAN TEND TO TAKE A LITTLE BIT OF TIME.

BECAUSE IT'S NOT PARK, THERE'S USUALLY AN RFP.

THERE'S A WHOLE PROCESS WHERE AN APPLICANT NEEDS TO APPLY, NEEDS TO BE APPROVED.

IT CAN BE MORE COMPLICATED THAN GOING AND TAKING OVER ANY VACANT STORE FRONT BECAUSE IT IS IN THE PARK.

SO I THINK THERE WILL BE SOME TIME THAT IT TAKES, BUT I THINK THE CITY ALSO RECOGNIZES HOW ICONIC, HOW IMPORTANT RE-OPENING THE LOBE BOATHOUSE WILL BE, AND EQUALLY FINDING THE RIGHT OPERATOR THE CURRENT OPERATOR, DEAN PAUL, HAD BEEN THERE FOR MANY YEARS.

HE'S ALSO RUN OTHER VARIOUS SUCCESSFUL RESTAURANTS, HAS THE NEW YORK CITY EXPERIENCE.

SO INSTEAD OF JUST GETTING ANY RESTAURATEUR IN THERE, WE WANT TO DO IT FAST BUT I ALSO HOPE THEY FIND SOMEBODY WITH THE RIGHT EXPERIENCE, WISDOM, AND THE ABILITY TO NOT JUST OPEN ANYTHING, BUT OPEN AS A LONG LASTING RESTAURANT THAT CAN DO THE SPACE JUSTICE.

BECAUSE WE NEED ANOTHER WONDERFUL RESTAURANT FOR PEOPLE TO ENJOY.

DOES THE FACT THAT THE SITE IS ALSO A CULTURAL LANDMARK FACTOR INTO THE DECISION-MAKING?

CERTAINLY.

YOU KNOW, I THINK THERE'S A LOT OF THINGS THAT AN OPERATOR GOING IN NEEDS TO RECOGNIZE AND NEEDS TO UNDERSTAND, RIGHT?

IT'S NOT JUST THE RESTAURANT, THE SITDOWN RESTAURANT.

THEY HAVE THE CONCESSION.

THEY ALSO DO ALL OF THESE TYPES OF WEDDINGS.

IT ALSO IS, LIKE YOU SAID, A LANDMARK, SO PEOPLE ARE GOING OUT ON BOATS.

PEOPLE ARE JUST COMING BY TO VISIT.

I SEE IF YOU'RE THERE IN THE EARLY MORNING, CYCLISTS.

THERE'S A LOT OF DIFFERENT ASPECTS TO RUNNING THE RESTAURANT AT THE LOBE BOAT HOUSE THAN IF YOU WERE JUST RUNNING A RESTAURANT, YOU KNOW, OUTSIDE OF THE PARK ON 6th AVENUE SOMEWHERE.

THERE'S SOME DEFINITE UNIQUE ASPECTS TO RUNNING IT, AND THAT'S WHY YOU WANT TO FIND THE RIGHT OPERATOR THAT UNDERSTANDS AND EMBRACES ALL THE DIFFERENT USES OF CENTRAL PARK SO THEY CAN REALLY OPERATE HARMONIOUSLY WITHIN THE BEAUTIFUL PARK.

ALL RIGHT, WELL, LONG LINES CAN BE A GOOD THING.

ANDREW, THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR JOINING US.

THE EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR OF THE NEW YORK HOSPITALITY ALLIANCE.

THANK YOU FOR JOINING ME ON 'METROFOCUS.'

THANKS SO MUCH FOR HAVING ME.

ABSOLUTELY.

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