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Queens restaurants to receive federal boost for outdoor dining as city program becomes permanent

Congresswoman Grace Meng was joined by city officials on Monday in Jackson Heights to announce new funding for outdoor dining in District 6. Photo by Iryna Shkurhan

June 24, 2024 By Iryna Shkurhan 

As the nation’s largest outdoor dining program pivots from a temporary pandemic-era program to a permanent fixture across the city, new federal funding will help some Queens restaurant owners jumpstart their participation. 

Congresswoman Grace Meng, in partnership with the city’s Small Business Services (SBS) and the Department of Transportation (DOT), announced on Monday that they secured $2 million to provide 60 restaurants with free outdoor dining setups. So far, the program is just for restaurants in Congressional District 6, which includes Flushing, Bayside, Forest Hills, and Elmhurst.

Elected officials and commissionaires from city agencies gathered outside Mojitos Restaurant and Bar on Northern Boulevard in Jackson Heights, where one of the new dining shed kits was already set up. The new structures that the city is promoting are designed to be easily collapsed, more rodent-resistant and aesthetically pleasing. 

Under the new permanent outdoor dining program, which was passed by the City Council in August, restaurant owners will be required to take down their roadway structures from November to April. But sidewalk cafes will be allowed year-round. 

“Restaurants are crucial to Queens. Like many other small businesses, they help drive the economy, create jobs, and bring investments to our communities,” said Congresswoman Grace Meng, noting that growing up, her parents worked in restaurants and later owned one.

“That is why I’m thrilled to have secured this vital funding to help them succeed,” she added. 

The officials reinforced that restaurant owners must apply for the new program by August 3. Those who do not apply before the deadline will be fined for having an outdoor dining structure and ordered to demolish it in August if it is not approved by the DOT. 

On Monday, DOT Commissioner Ydanis Rodríguez noted that hundreds of restaurants have applied for the permanent program. He added that in typical New York fashion, the DOT expects significantly more applications to come in closer to the deadline. 

When the program first launched in 2020, over 12,000 restaurants applied. Since then, restaurant owners have expressed mixed sentiments. 

“We have also made it more inviting, more consistent, and actually more accessible to many,” said Deputy Mayor Meera Joshi, who oversees the city’s operations and infrastructure.

NYC SBS Commissioner Commissioner Kevin D. Kim lauded the initiative that will give restaurant owners a leg up in compliance with new outdoor dining requirements. Photo by Iryna Shkurhan

She praised the new prototype structures as an alternative to the “shabby sheds,” which had barriers filled with soil, attracted rats, and aged quickly in a way that led many to refer to the unmaintained ones as eyesores. 

The officials also lauded the new initiative as an example of interagency cooperation and city and federal government collaboration, launched after months of work. The commissioners from SBS and DOT expressed gratitude to the congresswoman for providing the funding to help restaurant owners transition to the permanent program. 

“Queens is one of the world’s premiere culinary capitals. Outdoor dining has not only provided a fresh experience that attracts new customers, but it has also boosted the bottom line for restaurants and continues to grow our economy,” said NYC Department of Small Business Services Commissioner Kevin D. Kim. “We are grateful for Congresswoman Grace Meng’s continued advocacy for local small businesses as we open our commercial corridors to a vital revenue boost.”

There is hope that U.S. representatives in other congressional districts will follow suit and secure funding to support restaurants in their own districts. 

The new outdoor dining kits are designed by prefabrication businesses – ShowFab, Modstreet and Chair Up – are said to be easily customizable, durable and in compliance with the new requirements. 

“These free dining setups will help dozens of restaurants in our borough grow and thrive while allowing the public to continue to enjoy outdoor dining,” said Rep. Meng. 

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