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Outdoor Dining: What Will the April-to-December Program Look Like?

The race for outdoor dining designs — and warehousing them in the winter — is on.

Clockwise from bottom right: re-ply/Car: Gersh Kuntzman|

For now, three out of four ain’t bad.

The city's partial-year outdoor dining program hasn't even been finalized yet, but it's already created an entirely new industry of companies that will design, set up, maintain and store "streeteries" for restaurants that don't have the space to deal with the annual winter shutdown.

The Department of Transportation plans to release its draft design guidelines for the sidewalk and roadside structures this month, but the first eager firms are already vying to get in on this potentially lucrative business of catering to the thousands of Big Apple restaurants that were in the all-year, outdoor-dining program emerged earlier on in the pandemic.

Companies are looking to start "one stop shops" offering assembly and removal of sheds, along with their storage during the winter months, when the curb lane structures must come down, per the recent legislation.

Restaurants and their contractors previously forked over tens of thousands of dollars to build elaborate streetside structures during the past three-and-a-half years, but the city legislation has now spawned this entirely new industry to provide part-time structures that will have to make way for car storage for a third of the year.

The Council lawmaker behind the outdoor dining bill, Bronx Council Member Marjorie Velázquez, had said she hoped to see a “niche market” develop to sell outdoor dining setups and store them for businesses “off season," which will be between the end of November and through March under the law.

DOT will gather public feedback this fall as part of its rule-making process, before finalizing the regulations later this year or early 2024, according to an informational website on the program. The agency's vague renderings only hint at what is to come:

Is this the future of roadway dining? Rendering: DOT

Meanwhile, private companies are looking to solve the largest headache of an eight-month-per-year program: Set up every spring and break down every winter, and where to keep the materials for four months in between.

The startup re-ply, founded by architects with the Australian firm BVN, says it will rent out structures for the new program and has already released impressive renderings based on a modular "kit-of-parts" design.

One of re-ply's proposed designs.

Re-ply’s founders hope to offer a subscription model for several thousand dollars a month that will take care of everything for restaurants: setup, maintenance, removal and storage over the winter. 

“The idea is that we are the one-stop-shop solution,” Nikita Notowidigdo, an architect with re-ply, told Streetsblog. 

The company’s structures will be customizable, and they can easily adjust their designs depending on what the city comes up with in its final requirements in the months ahead.

“Because they're modular, we might only have to change one component or we might just make a blanket change that affects everything but only in one way,” said Nick Flutter, also an architect with re-ply. "We can refurbish the structures through the winter while they're in storage, so that when they come out next season they're really fresh and good to go."

Restaurants could swap out wooden flooring for pavers, said Lee Jackson, a sales associate with tile manufacturer Daltile, adding that their porcelain tiles on pedestals would have drainage underneath, be easier to clean and more slip-resistant than regular wood surfaces. 

“They are resilient, you can literally clean them off and they’re like new,” Jackson said. 

Here's what that could look like:

These raised porcelain pavers could be an alternative to the usual wood flooring used for outdoor dining. Rendering: Profilitec

Another outfit, Soho Sheds, plans to rent out shipping containers, which are sturdy and already come in standardized sizes that fit in the curb lane.

“Shipping containers literally travel all over the world and over oceans, so they’re corrosion-resistant and fire-proof,” said Brad Robinson of Soho Sheds.

The prefabricated metal boxes, which the company previously provided for the Soho seafood eatery Lure Fishbar during the temporary outdoor dining program, are easy to transport and build, but still lend themselves to customization, he said. 

“Our structure will get the operator 90 percent of the way there, and then the 10 percent that they can use to make it their own and decorate it,” Robinson said.

Soho Sheds installed this shipping container streetery outside Lure Fishbar in Soho. Photo: Weston Kloefkorn

Soho Sheds don’t have a set price yet, but Robinson said the company plans to charge a flat fee that includes drop-off and storage. 

Robinson predicted that the beginning and end of the roadside season will be hectic for restaurateurs, and he said companies like his will be able to make it easier on the eateries. 

“It’s gonna be like moving day on steroids,” he said. “Ultimately the success of the program for the long term is what everybody’s after.”

Velázquez said she was interested to hear more about how these companies can support the restaurant industry.

"Many restaurants do not have storage to accommodate these structures, and it’s interesting to see a new industry forming to support it," the Bronx lawmaker said in a statement. "Outdoor dining is for everyone, and if that means creating a new industry that stimulates our economy and supports local businesses, I’d be interested to learn more."

A DOT spokesman said the Adams administration has been engaging the private sector to find "creative ways" to support permanent outdoor dining.

"As we finalize guidelines, ... we are working with private partners to develop a ‘kit-of-parts’ for restaurants: easy-to-use, compliant, modular outdoor dining setups for those interested in participating," Vin Barone said in a statement.

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