Filipino restaurateurs in New Jersey remain hopeful as indoor dining with some restrictions resumes

Asin’s Vincent and Queenie Bañez
| AJPress file photo

Restaurants in New Jersey has allowed indoor dining beginning last Friday, September 4.

On Wednesday, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced that he is lifting the six-month ban and will allow indoor dining at restaurants at a limited capacity starting Sept. 30.

“Reopening responsibly will help us restore one of our state’s key industries while continuing to make progress against#COVID19,” New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy said week.

He had delayed reopening indoor dining, citing health concerns about the spread of the virus inside specially since the numbers from other states were on an uptick.

The decision comes with a few rules, among them requiring masks for employees and customers at all times, except while they are eating and drinking. There is also a maximum of eight people per table, unless they are from the same household.

The same protocols apply in New York but in addition, they will conduct temperature checks at every front door, collect Test & Trace data from at least one customer at each table and offer protections like PPE for employees.

Filipino-owned restaurants have been looking forward to this announcement for months.
“I am very happy that finally restaurants in New Jersey can open its indoor dining even if only 25 percent would be allowed. That will be a lot better than none at all,” Queenie Bañez, Asin told the Asian Journal. “Since our restaurant is big enough to accommodate 70 customers, 20 at any given time would be good enough to start with.”

The lockdown severely affected the Caldwell restaurant’s operations but they remained open initially for three days a week before going back to six days as customers began to come and buy takeout.

During the pandemic, their restaurant remained open initially for three days a week, then eventually went back to six days a week as people start to come and do take out.

“For small business like us, it made a terrible impact on our sales but we Filipinos are fighters, so fight as we must and business must go on,” she said.

Bañez is thankful that their regular clients continued to patronize them when they offered outdoor dining, with some showing support by purchasing gift certificates for future use.

“But sometimes it’s not enough. The Small Business loans is a big help for paying the rent and utilities but since we are new in the industry, we were given very minimal,” she said.

She remains hopeful that the industry will regain lost ground in the coming days.

“It may look very difficult at the moment to rise up and start anew but in my heart and mind it will be difficult but not impossible,” she said.

Celeste Roldan Ferrer of Max’s Restaurant in Jersey City said they will adhere to all the safety guidelines upon reopening.

“With safety of our customers and staff as our first priority, we  are hoping to ultimately serve our community to increased  capacity,” she said.

Max’s has been active on social media, taking out Facebook ads to promote lunch and dinner packages as they pivoted towards pick-up and delivery. When outdoor dining was allowed, they put up a few tables on the sidewalk.

“Our goal is to ensure this step is done properly,” Murphy said during a press conference last week when he discussed the gradual reopening. “We all know this pandemic isn’t over yet.”

There are small restaurants like Little Quiapo also in Jersey City which are not ready to open its indoor dining.

“We have kept an eye on the progress of the state in fighting against Covid-19, and while we’re  happy that we’ve reached a point where indoor dining is possible again, we are not yet ready to allow indoor diners in our restaurant,” owner Elizabeth Atendido told the Asian Journal.  “We’ll continue  to monitor the situation and we expect to allow indoor dining again in the future but we are not yet comfortable doing so.”

Atendido explained that members of their staff are older adults so they “chose to err on the side of caution and prioritize the health of our staff overall.”

The restaurant was open during the beginning of quarantine but they closed on April 2 when coronavirus cases in New Jersey continued to rise. The state has recorded more than 192,000 positive cases and over 14,000 fatalities.

They reopened on May 30 for take out only, following safety precautions and guidelines set by the state.

“While there are times where compliance can be an issue, thankfully most of our customers have been cooperative, as we all try to adjust to the current situation,” she said..

For another restaurateur, it is more than just keeping their doors open.

“We are a little scared though its 25% still there is danger for us health wise, but I have to open kasi po a lot of my customers are thinking na closed na kami,” said Rosemary Robles of Pandan, another Filipino restaurant in Bloomfield.

Calling the situation that brought the world on its knees “a nightmare,” Robles said they are coping but they do not know for how long.

“I just don’t how are we standing still and really don’t how to recover,” she added.

Momar G. Visaya

Momar G. Visaya is the Executive Editor of the Asian Journal. You can reach him at

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