SUFFOLK COUNTY, NY — Catering businesses have been crippled by coronavirus protocols that have left them unable to open, said Riverhead Town Councilwoman Jodi Giglio. And now, Giglio has organized an “urgent” rally Friday to urge Gov. Andrew Cuomo to allow those businesses to open at 50 percent capacity.
Catering business owners will gather at the rally in Hauppauge Friday, which will be held at noon at the H. Lee Dennison Building, located at 100 Veterans Memorial Highway in Hauppauge.
The rally follows Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s announcement Tuesday that a popular East End wedding venue had its liquor license suspended due to violations of coronavirus protocols; Giglio said Tuesday that she would “go to bat” for Giorgio’s and other catering businesses struggling to survive, which she said have opening plans focused on safety.
The goal, she said, is to appeal to Cuomo to allow weddings, Sweet 16s, ceremonies and other events that were put on hold during the coronavirus pandemic to take place at 50 percent capacity.
“Catering facilities have been brought to the brink of bankruptcy with no cash flow since March and are living on loans; they must be allowed to open at 50 percent capacity,” said Giglio, who is running for a New York State Assembly seat.
Catering facilities, she said, comprise a large portion of the local economy, and secondary businesses, including the printers who make invitations, bakeries, bridal and tuxedo shops, hotels, DJs, florists, photographers and videographers, bands that provide live music, and transportation businesses supporting the industry are suffering, also.
The trickle down effect of the restrictions on the industry is immense, Giglio said.
“Restrictions decimated the summer tourism season when they should have been allowed to operate safely,” she said.
Cuomo, she added, capped capacity at no more than 50 guests at catering facilities, no matter the size of the spaces. “Facilities with the capacity for 300, 500 and 700 guests are being forced to operate as if they were all the same size,” she said. “They are going bankrupt and need to feed their families. We need the governor to let them safely serve their customers, put their employees back to work and pay their bills.”
Other lawmakers agreed, including Assemblyman Joe DeStefano, who added: “Caterers were put out of business for months and now are being told that they can only have up to 50 guests. This doesn’t make sense for the majority of facilities that can safely host many more people than that.”
New York State Assemblyman Anthony Palumbo, who is running for New York State Senate, said caterers have been “targeted by state authorities for being a few people over the limit — and some have had their licenses suspended or revoked.”
Giorgio’s Baiting Hollow, a popular Long Island wedding venue, was one of 16 more bars and restaurants statewide that had their liquor license suspended for violations of coronavirus regulations, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said this week. Giorgio’s license was suspended Saturday, he said. On Friday, investigators with the state’s task force reported seeing 95 people at a wedding reception — nearly twice the legal limit, Cuomo said.
The decision to shut down Giorgio’s — a facility that has capacity for more than 500 guests — for having 95 guests was arbitrary, Giglio said.
Owners of Giorgio’s did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Palumbo also called on the governor to allow for occupancy of least 50 percent capacity. “This would allow for ample social distancing for a society that is now well-accustomed to the need to wear masks and practice good hygiene,” he said. “Many businesses have proven they can operate safely, and the catering halls are no exception. Why is it then that they need such tight restrictions?”
Owners of catering facilities were outraged after Cuomo’s announcement Tuesday about Giorgio’s: “Enough is enough,” said an owner, who was not identified in Giglio’s release, whose facility can hold up to 500 people, but is restricted to just 50. “The state came down hard,” on an East End facility that had the space to safely welcome the guests that attended, the owner said.
“They weren’t going to turn them away because they had plenty of room to safely host them,” the owner added. “Facing penalties of $10,000 per violation and paying lawyers’ fees when the PPP loans ran out three months ago is unaffordable and impractical during these difficult times for our industry.”
Catering businesses are “scared to death,” Giglio said. “They fear going bankrupt and are afraid to say anything for fear of the state cracking down on them. They have enlisted their elected officials on the local level in their fight to get back in business.”
The caterers have filed a class action lawsuit seeking permission to fully reopen, she said. The caterers also have a website, detailing the suit.
“We fully understand the seriousness and gravity of the current pandemic,” the caterers state. But, the added, “private events are the lifeblood of New York and an engine of prosperity for the city and state. Without private and public events, our cultural, political, economic, and physical landscapes have been dramatically altered. While the procedures and protocols for safety are essential to resuming business, it is our utmost priority to ensure that our employees, clients, and guests have sufficient confidence in our industry so we can reopen and safely host private events.”
This article originally appeared on the Riverhead Patch