Food

No Fear Here: How New Restaurants Persevered Despite The Pandemic

By Loulou Chryssides

Photo/Athena Alex Studio
Photo/Athena Alex Studio

Photo/Athena Alex Studio

Home to dozens of Michelin-guide restaurants and cuisines spanning continents, Astoria has become known for being one of New York City’s culinary centers. Walk to any corner in the neighborhood and get introduced to a different corner of the globe. Hundreds of restaurants call Astoria home. So, when COVID-19 hit the city, many were left with tough decisions to make. And, within the first month, billions of dollars in revenue were lost due to restrictions on dining to curb the spread of the virus.

Fortunately, restrictions have eased up and paths have been formed for restaurants to function at a slightly more normal level. Outdoor dining has been permitted in New York City for the last couple of months and will remain in place through October 31st of this year. Delivery and takeout have also been options for patrons who prefer to dine at home.

And then, there are the restaurants who have opened despite all of the potential challenges. Since March, a handful of new restaurants have successfully opened throughout the neighborhood. Their brave and bold decisions show us what it means to be ‘Astoria Strong’.

One such establishment is Niko’s Souvlaki, located at 19-33 Ditmars Boulevard. Known for its authentic Greek dishes such as handcrafted gyros, souvlaki, and biftekia (patties), Niko’s Souvlaki fast gained attention for opening during an uncertain moment in time. The restaurant has been highlighted by The Wall Street Journal, NBC New York, and more.

Niko’s Souvlaki had initially been set to open before the pandemic started, however due to challenges stemming from the virus its opening was temporarily delayed. However, owner Niko Lamprou believes in the motto of ‘fortune favors the bold’, and ultimately decided to open up shop in April.

“The community hugged us (from a distance) from day one. It makes us feel so great and unique, we feel blessed for the positive reception, repeat customers, and general vibe of community love. We built up our delivery clients in the beginning due to takeout and delivery restrictions, but it turns out people were excited to have a new option, especially during the tough times of the quarantine. Since we opened our patio, more and more people are coming in to taste our food and enjoy the ambiance of our corner spot by Astoria park. We couldn’t love our location more. We live in the neighborhood and have loved becoming a part of the community”, said Lamprou.

Photo/Athena Alex Studio

Another new establishment embodying the motto of ‘Astoria Strong’: Slush Astoria, located at 36-05 30thAvenue. Owners Eric & Olga Schneidemann, a lifelong Queens resident, decided to realize their dream of opening a storefront to create one of Olga’s favorite summer treats growing up: slushies.

Slush Astoria has fast become a neighborhood favorite, creating freshly handcrafted slushie drinks catered towards the whole family. Customers have the option of creating their own slushie or choosing one from Slush Astoria’s wide-ranging menu. Drinks can be made with alcohol as well, but must be accompanied by a food order.

The concept behind Slush Astoria was to always please each and every customer that comes by. The Schneidemanns aim to create a satisfying experience through their freshly crafted beverages for customers to relax and enjoy the warmer days with a refreshing slushie. “Astoria has been great. The people are very friendly and the experience has been wonderful. Even though it’s a difficult time, everyone is doing their best and [the community] puts you at ease”, said Olga Schneidemann.

Image/Slush Astoria

The Barn Coffee Shop, located at 26-08 Hoyt Avenue S, was opened by Maria Ramos & Eric Gonzalez who each had a dream of opening their own restaurant. With a shared passion for good food and quality service, as well as Ramos’ expertise as a graduate from the Art Institute of NYC in Restaurant Management and Culinary Studies, the married duo decided to pursue their lifelong goal. After much consideration, they ultimately went for it and opened The Barn in July 2020. Ramos has been a lifelong resident of Astoria, and Eric was excited to bring his Brooklyn upbringing to Queens.

Photo/The Barn Coffee Shop

“The concept is to bring quality and fresh (farm to table) items and give our customers an experience and not just feed them or make them coffee. We wanted a community coffee shop where we know our customers names, where we can be of any service to them. Where we can brighten up a day with knowing we are there”, said Ramos. Both Ramos & Gonzalez felt where better to bring this to life than Astoria?

The Barn prides itself on its fresh seasonal items, which its team has perfected to crafting unique menu items, such as The Barn’s best selling cold brew coffee, freshly-made smoothies and B.C.E.A. (bacon, cheese, egg, and avocado) sandwich. The owners of The Barn are grateful to the Astoria community for showing support from the very beginning. “The best word to describe it is, blessed! The saying “when something is meant for you the universe conspires in your favor” describes our experience. We have been very blessed in meeting precise people, in having our family, friends and community support us from the beginning. When you love what you are doing everything that you give comes right back at you. And it has been a great experience we keep learning from everyday”, shared Ramos.

Photo/The Barn Coffee Shop

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