Uptown Taco, a new restaurant, navigates the COVID-19 crisis

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When Bill Barry opened Uptown Taco in Floral Park with his brother-in-law on March 3, he could not have foreseen the reason he would have to close his dining room nine days later: a global pandemic.

“It was so unfortunate. You put your heart and soul into something and then that happens. But it wasn’t just us, the whole world was going through it,” Barry said.

As they transitioned to a takeout-only model, Barry began to consider himself to have better luck than some other restaurateurs. For one, he hadn’t considered that tacos can easily be packaged and used for takeout or delivery.

“It’s not like ordering a pizza where you’re sharing it with other people. All of the tacos come in individual containers. It’s as contactless as can be,” he said.

Because they were so new, and were going through the process of learning the business, Barry said he and his staff hadn’t fallen into long-standing routines that had to be broken. They learned on the fly and adapted accordingly.

During the height of the pandemic in the state, one employee got sick, and takeout service was shuttered for a week. Barry said his staff was concerned for the employee and themselves but that it turned out she did not have the novel coronavirus, and takeout service resumed.

Now Uptown Taco has some outdoor seating and can seat within the dining room at 50 percent capacity, in accordance with state guidelines. Staff members wear masks and gloves at all times and there are glass partitions between tables. Barry said he has seen some hesitance in costumers to come inside, but he’s doing everything he can to make customers feel safe.

Barry has been working in bars for upwards of 20 years. He most recently worked at McCarthy’s in Floral Park for about 15 years. He teaches fifth-grade math in New York City as well. He and his brother-in-law, Lou Venturn, a retired New York police sergeant, had had an idea to start a restaurant together for the last decade. When the location became available, it all fell into place.

Barry said Floral Park is a family community and does well in supporting small businesses through social media efforts such as Facebook groups and the SLAQ (support local after quarantine) social media campaign. He envisioned a restaurant that was welcoming to families and where “kids could stop by after school.”

Because his business was so new, he hasn’t seen a significant downturn in revenue since the pandemic began.

“We really don’t have anything to compare it to,” Barry said.

Uptown Taco did not have to make any layoffs in the last few months but at one point did go onto a family-only basis. A niece and nephew of Venturn’s were forced to return home from college and began working. Because of this, the staff was able to keep contact with people outside the family to a minimum and reduce stress about virus transmission.

Barry said he now feels more responsible for people’s livelihoods and has “lost some sleep” over that. One thing the lockdown did was change his plans for the restaurant to become a more take-out focused eatery, a trend that many similar businesses across the country are considering.

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