COVID-19 has brought death to more than 15,000 New Yorkers over the past two months, but it has also meant sudden death for many restaurants—and unemployment for restaurant workers—in New York City. The toll is petrifying, from upscale institutions like the bistros Lucky Strike in SoHo and Prune in the East Village to fast food joints all over the city’s street corners. These have become scary times for restaurant professionals all over.
As many restaurant owners find themselves unable to pay their rent, few landlords are responding to pleas for rent forgiveness or even deferment. To be fair, New York City has also seen many acts of solidarity over the past few weeks, and some hotels have been converted into coronavirus quarantine emergency housing, or even homeless shelters, with free meals provided throughout the day. More than 400 New Yorkers lined up outside the Bowery Mission to receive a free Easter meal.
One neighborhood that has been hit particularly hard is Harlem, where many cafés, bars, restaurants and, surprisingly, even grocery stores like Fairway’s are now on life support. One African-owned joint showing resilience in Harlem is Teranga, at the Africa Center, where the Senegalese Chef Pierre Thiam has been leading his team in a mission to cook “African Super Foods” (including chicken yassa and his version of the classic jollof) for New York City’s healthcare workers.
“I decided to stay open,” Thiam said during an interview yesterday, “because I wanted to keep my key employees on a payroll and also because Teranga could be contributing by bringing much needed comforting food to our community as well as to healthcare workers.” Even since its “soft” opening in late 2018, Teranga has positioned itself as a restaurant and café where Africans from Harlem and New York City’s other neighborhoods could come and just hang out.
Stanley Lumax, the Ghanaian American founder of African Chop House who is also a partner in Teranga told me last year that he and Pierre conceived of the place as both a culinary and cultural experience. The East Harlem location, right on the ground floor of a Fifth Avenue museum that is “dedicated to increasing public appreciation and understanding of African art and culture,” is just right for the kind of cross-pollination that Teranga’s owners envisioned.
Teranga has hosted private events for the Nigerian musician Burna Boy and other major cultural figures from Africa and the African diaspora, but those of us who are regulars have noticed that just about half of Teranga’s patrons are not African. And we didn’t find it surprising that so many luminaries from Africa and elsewhere (including DJ Bobbito Garcia) have supported Teranga’s “Meals for New York City Healthcare Workers” gofundmecampaign.
Consider supporting meals for NYC health care workers at https://t.co/LWqKekCijc Wooord
— BOBBITO GARCIA (@koolboblove) April 4, 2020