“Who would have thought that outdoor space would make or break a restaurant?”
For Jose Javier Cordova, an owner of Cinco De Mayo, a taqueria that’s been open since 2000, delivery was routine; inventing an outdoor dining setup was the problem. Mr. Cordova, 54, worked as a waiter for 25 years at a formal restaurant on Wall Street before retiring to realize a long-held goal: cooking the food of his native Mexico City in his own restaurant.
“At the beginning, we put tables outside, but people didn’t like to sit in the sun,” so he invested in shade umbrellas. Rain meant buying scarce and expensive tents on Amazon, even as the restaurant was bringing in only $100 to $200 a day; the approach of winter meant building a shed.
“We are still putting in the electric heaters,” he said. “And pretty soon we won’t need them any more.”
Amid all this chaos, nearby residents began to rally around the local food businesses. About three-quarters of those who live here work outside the neighborhood, according to a 2018 study by the Flatbush Development Corporation, but with offices closed, that dynamic changed.
“People who used to commute to Manhattan were staying put, and businesses were innovating to meet that demand,” said Katie Richey, an owner of King Mother, a sleek wine bar.
Last summer, Ms. Richey, 28, and her business partner, the chef Erika Lesser, set up an outdoor stand to sell frosé — slushies of lemonade and pink wine — and then started a wine club, a cheese club and an online store. As fall set in, they persuaded the dentist next door to let them build a wooden shed over the sidewalk, decorated it with evergreen garlands and nudged the menu in an Alpine direction to project a “chalet” vibe.