Bennie’s Thai Cafe Closing after Nearly a Quarter Century Due to COVID-19 Crisis
Two days ago, we all learned of how Bennie’s Thai Cafe would be closing its doors due to the COVID-19 Crisis. The news would come via a Posting on their Facebook page.
Located at 88 Fulton St with a seating capacity of about 50, the restaurant will be closing its doors on July 26, 2020. The date would come by happenstance, exactly 24 years since it first opened in 1994.
I’ve had the chance to chat with its manager, Pat Nongnut, and I learned a bit about this establishment’s history and how it’s managed over the course of this economic and health crisis.
Bennie’s Thai Cafe has struggled since the beginning of the City’s lock-down in March when only essential businesses were allowed to operate. At the time, the restaurant was only able to service their customers through takeouts and deliveries.
Back in the pre-COVID days, its profits mainly came from patrons dining in during the midday hours. A bulk of their clientele was made up of downtown office workers from the nearby financial district and tourists. Considering how the Seaport District is merely steps away, and the World Trade Center and other landmark locales not too far off, it’s easy to see the enormous hit this business would take.
For months now, tourism has been at a complete standstill and most offices remain closed despite the city’s reopening phases. The restaurant could barely make way even when outdoor dining became an option. The restaurant is situated steps below the pavement, thus making it extraordinarily difficult to even consider sidewalk dining.
I asked Pat if indoor dining (which has been postponed for NYC) might’ve made a difference. He reminded me again about the empty offices, lack of tourism and how many of the individuals residing in the area were doing so because of their nearby work locales. Thus, without work there was no need to continue living within the area.
He told me that Bennie Boon, the owner, arrived at the heartbreaking decision to close about 4-6 weeks earlier. What weighed on her heart greatest was her employees. What would become of them?
I’m familiar with folks who’ve known her for many years and there’s a sentiment that rings through and through amongst them all: Bennie’s got a heart of gold. She and her restaurant are loved, and it breaks everyone’s heart to see this happening.
As a final question, I asked Pat if he thinks there was anything the city could’ve done to help.
“I don’t think so. I don’t think there’s anything that could’ve been done with the way this pandemic blew up so fast,” he said. “Everybody took a hit.”
He would share with me how Bennie was considering reopening in the future, in a smaller capacity with takeouts, deliveries and possibly a few tables. Without question, she would carry on the name which has been a part of NYC Dining for decades now.
It all began with her and her husband running a Blimpie restaurant from which they would serve, as well, Thai Food. From there she took her business onto a restaurant by her same name at an address not too far from the present day location. In 2002, the New York Times ran article detailing some of her culinary history which is worthy of a read.
Yours truly has dined at Bennies Thai Café numerous times over the years and it’s with sadness that I bid farewell to this spot which has been a fave of so many for so long. If you’re interested in visiting for a takeout meal or at a table just outside its door then they’ll be more than happy to have you.
Remember, their last day will be on Sunday, July 26.