Robert DaSilva, a resident of Kearny and the owner of Centanni Ristorante, is furious with Gov. Philip D. Murphy. And just a few weeks ago, he wasn’t.
His anger with the state’s CEO hinges on the governor’s decision to rescind his own order that would have allowed restaurants around the state to begin indoor operations at 25% of capacity on July 2. But after reports surfaced that several Jersey Shore restaurants weren’t following social-distancing guidelines and were operating at a much higher capacity than we allowed, Murphy made an announcement that the July 2 soft re-open date — that so many restaurateurs were longing for for months — was made too soon.
And so for thousands of restaurant owners, statewide, it was back to the drawing board again. But it was different this time, because so many, after hearing the July 2 date, began to make preparations for the reopening.
And that’s got DaSilva up in arms. Understandably.
“Because places that have outdoor dining — which I don’t — couldn’t follow the rules, it screwed us all,” DeSilva said. “There are a lot of places that can do outdoor dining. I can’t because of my location. They were the ones who were overcrowded, not me. So if it all comes down to following rules and regulations, shut them down. Don’t penalize me. I didn’t do anything wrong here. They did. Shut down outdoor dining. That’s where the problems were.”
DaSilva says he thinks Murphy doesn’t realize just how detrimental his decision to not allow restaurants to reopen is.
“He doesn’t understand how serious this is,” DaSilva said.
And because of this belief, DaSilva says he’s sent emails to the Governor’s Office, his chief of staff and members of his communications team.
In the email, he plans to tell the governor his decision to nix the July 2 reopening is unfair to restaurants that can’t have outdoor seating.
“I can’t put tables out in front of my place,” DaSilva, whose restaurant is a part of a strip mall on River Road, with numerous non-restaurant establishments, said. “I can’t put tables in front of other places. They don’t have licenses and they’re not insured for that. So he decides to screw us all because of outdoor dining? If that’s the real problem, he should shut down outdoor dining and allow us to open up. That will send a message to teach them a lesson that rules are rules. They’d learn from it, trust me.
“Those people didn’t have facemasks. Those people weren’t social distancing. Not me.”
Part of DaSilva’s anger was precipitated by his decision to order a lot of provisions for July 2. He also says he took numerous reservations from patrons who were excited about getting to eat at Centanni for the first time since March. And, he brought in several staff members to set up the restaurant floor with socially-distant measures.
Now, he had to call and cancel the reservations made. He has an enormous amount of food he paid for and won’t be able to serve. And he’ll have to pay those who came back to prepare the place. All without a cent of income.
“I won’t be able to do anything,” he said. “I’ll donate all the food to churches for people who need it.”
And so while doing something quite positive with his unused food, can you blame the man for his preference to have cooked and served it for customers?
“It’s really rough,” DaSilva said. “I’ve waited for 3½ months to reopen. In that time, the landlord still wanted rent. We still had bills to pay. But instead of reopening, I had to call people to tell them I can’t do this. And I want the governor to know how bad this decision was. He’s going to hear it from me.”
Trouble at Reilly’s?
Kristen Grimaldi is a co-owner of Reilly’s Tavern on Kearny Avenue.
She says that not only was her request for a permit to have outdoor dining rejected, she was also threatened with a fine for having a banner that said “Take Out Food” was available at her place.
The notice, dated June 9, that she received from Construction Official Tony Chisari, which The Observer reviewed, and which was confirmed by Town Clerk Patricia Carpenter, said she would be fined $1,000 a day if she refused to remove the sign. It was deemed unacceptable, because it was in the form of a vinyl banner that hung from the tavern’s large front window without a permit to do so.
“Why me?” Grimaldi asked. “There are other places with similar signs that didn’t get a warning. Why are they coming after me?”
Grimaldi says she was pleased when the mayor and Town Council said it would work hard to allow businesses to reopen. But she says it’s been nothing but a pain since.
She says she was told her permit was rejected by the Kearny Fire Department. But the Kearny FD had never been sent to inspect her property.
Carpenter, meanwhile, says Reilly’s never submitted an application for outdoor seating.
“Reilly’s hasn’t yet submitted an application to the clerk’s office for outdoor dining,” Carpenter told The Observer. “I did learn that our fire inspector had a general conversation with Kristen regarding setting up tables, but as to an inspection, one was not done.
“Reilly’s should certainly apply, and if they can get consent from adjacent properties, they can increase their space keeping in mind social distancing guidelines. With the governor squashing plans for indoor dining, etc., it behooves them to try and work something out. We also have the StrEatery option, which permits dining tables to extend into the street.
“On another note, Kristen did receive a typical violation notice for the banner that was hung from the bottom of Reilly’s window to the sidewalk.”
Meanwhile, Mayor Alberto G. Santos, in a June 17 Facebook post, shared a video of a restaurant that had outdoor seating in its rear without any fire egress except through the actual restaurant building. The Observer was told by several officials that backyard dining was not permitted unless fire egress was possible outside the building, which could account for why Reilly’s was unable to secure permission to open up its rear yard.
But why was this other place, that Santos was peddling, allowed to open with a similar setup?
Several phone calls to Santos’s mobile phone seeking comment were not returned.
Learn more about the writer ...
Kevin A. Canessa Jr. is the editor of and broadcaster at The Observer, a place where he has served on and off since 2006. He is responsible for the editorial content of the newspaper and website, the production of the e-Newspaper, writing several stories per week (including the weekly editorial), conducting live broadcasts on Facebook Live, including a weekly recap of the news — and much more behind the scenes. Between 2006 and 2008, he introduced the newspaper to its first-ever blog — which included podcasts, audio and video. Originally from Jersey City, Kevin lived in Kearny until 2004, lived in Port St. Lucie. Florida, for four years until February 2016 and in March of that year, he moved back to West Hudson to return to The Observer full time. Click Here to send Kevin an email.