Amazon Bailed — and Restaurant Owners Are Bummed

Some restaurant owners might disagree with this.
Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Three months and one day after announcing that one of its two new headquarters would be in Long Island City, Queens, Amazon execs decided to back out of the deal this week, citing major opposition to the plan from politicians and activists in a press release shared with the Times.

Regardless of the criticism, a new Amazon HQ would have undeniably brought tens of thousands of new jobs to the area and been a boon to local bars and cafés, and news that Amazon had pulled out of the arrangement sent a shock wave through the local hospitality industry. Once again[1], Grub Street reached out to LIC restaurateurs to hear their reactions to news of Amazon’s exit, which range from apathy to abject disappointment.

“I don’t think you’re going to find any restaurant owner that’s happy about this,” says Robert Briskin, co-owner of upscale Italian restaurant Maiella[2]. “Any time 25,000 jobs die, I think there should be some kind of funeral.”

Located just behind the neighborhood’s famous Pepsi sign, Maiella’s bar would have been one block from the new Amazon headquarters, which, according to Briskin, would have meant more daytime traffic (which is virtually nonexistent at the moment) and a busier happy hour that would have fed into the dinner rush. Briskin is also opening a second restaurant in the neighborhood later this month, which would have been roughly five blocks away. “Conservatively,” he figures, “I’d say we’ve lost $2 million in revenue per location.”

For Roni Mazumdar, the owner of Manhattan restaurant Rahi and Adda Indian Canteen[3], Amazon’s arrival would have provided the perfect opportunity to meld the increasingly disparate parts of Long Island City, a mix of yuppie-filled, waterfront high-rises and working-class communities. “There isn’t a common thing that’s jelling the community and that’s why businesses don’t thrive in this area as much,” Mazumdar says. “Because of the traffic that’s necessary to sustain a lot of businesses, mom-and-pop shops don’t necessarily make it. I was hoping that was going to change.”

When faced with the prospect that maybe these moms and pops weren’t so sympathetic toward a company that’s made a habit of running them out of business, Mazumdar found that particular argument to be more “sentimental than logical.”

The stakes may have been highest for chef Dan Kluger, best known for his Manhattan restaurant Loring Place[4]. Next spring, he’s set to open a 5,000-square-foot restaurant in the Jacx[5], a massive retail and office development that’s currently under construction. A lot of that space could have been occupied by Amazon employees and the massive network around them. In a (very diplomatic) statement to Grub, Kluger downplayed Amazon’s decision to pull out, saying, “We are disappointed that the Amazon team will not have the opportunity to dine at the new restaurant, but truthfully, we were excited to be a part of the growth of Long Island City well before we knew about Amazon’s plan to open offices there.”

Andrew Karistinos, the owner of Jackson’s Eatery and Bar[6], though, was preparing to expand his business in the name of Amazon and had been looking forward to the possibility of daytime patronage. Currently, his restaurant is only open for dinner, and brunch on weekends, but with an influx of corporate clients on the horizon, Karistinos planned to start serving lunch in the spring. Now, he says, he’s not so sure. “Our business keeps on growing on a monthly and yearly basis, but it would have been nice to have a shot in the arm,” he says.

A lot of the blame, he adds, will likely fall on the shoulders of the local and state politicians who were unhappy that they were kept out of the negotiations by Mayor Bill de Blasio and Governor Andrew Cuomo. “They got their toes stepped on,” Karistinos says. “But, I mean, once you do the math around what New York was going to give Amazon in tax incentives versus what 25,000 people would have generated in tax revenue — well, coming from the old school, the paper and pencil doesn’t lie.”

“It’s a sad day for realtors; it’s a sad day for landowners. It’s a sad day for business owners,” Maiella’s Briskin adds. “I think there’s maybe three or four politicians that are happy, and all of New York City is kind of upset.”

For Mazumdar of Adda, the short-lived deal and its swift collapse represented a larger failure on the part of all involved. “It wasn’t like we were going to wake up and there were going to be 25,000 employees working. It was going to happen over the years,” he says, adding that Amazon could have explained its own side more clearly. “That idea drove so much fear in people that they stopped listening to the information, and there was a gap in communication from many aspects. I think it’s unfair to say that the blame lies only with the politicians or the general public. Both parties didn’t listen to each other well enough.”