Restaurateur Herbert Duarte cannot undo the headaches, unwind the hours or take back the thousands of dollars he lost, but he can make sure the city council hears his voice.
Since Duarte opened up Saffron Restaurant on Cross Bay Boulevard a little over two years ago, he said the fire department has visited him over 15 times — pinning him with a $10,000 fine for “having too many seats” back in May.
“It’s crazy,” he said. “When I decided to open my own restaurant, I didn’t realize the big headaches that the city gives you.”
Long an expert in the food industry, Duarte — who previously worked as an executive chef at Marriott Hotels for over 20 years — said he never had to deal with the hassle of city agencies when he worked for a major hotel.
But now, Duarte said he has had to hire a lawyer and cut employee work hours in order to pay for the costs. He said the fine was reduced to about $2,000, but he still had to shell out another grand for the lawyer.
“You’re barely making money as it is,” he said.
From architects and attorneys to plumbers and podiatrists, local small business owners — like Duarte — joined city officials for help with surviving being a small business owner in a struggling economy.
“We are trying our best to help people who have jobs keep their jobs, and to create more jobs for the future to make doing business in New York City just a little bit easier,” said Councilmember Eric Ulrich, who hosted the December 15 event. “We want to make sure we keep people off the welfare roll and keep them on the payroll.”
Council Speaker Christine Quinn addressed the concerns of the area’s business owners, briefing them also on recent business initiatives within the council.
“Our job in government should be to help all of you keep your neighbors working, even though sometimes you think our job in government is to put you out of business,” she said. “It’s infuriating when one agency tells you to do one thing, and when you abide by regulations from that agency, you’re violating another agency’s regulations. It makes no sense. They just seem out to get restaurants, and I just don’t get it. I just think we need to make huge changes when it comes to restaurants.”
In order to address that issue, Quinn said the council has created a regulatory review task force in order to help make the city’s enforcement process clearer and fairer to businesses.
“With this panel, we’re literally going through — and it’s painstaking — the entire administrative code to find contradictory rules, rules that don’t make sense and remove them from the books in the city,” she said.
The task force — now meeting issues in its second round of recommendations — also offers increased education and information to businesses pre-inspection to avoid violations.
During the roundtable event, other business owners expressed concerns about parking meter fees and eliminating the Cross Bay Bridge toll.
For more information on the Council’s business initiatives, visit www.nyc.gov/nycbusiness.