Barstool Sports helps keep NYC food joints cooking with bailouts after pandemic
The birth of her daughter should have been a happy time for Brooklyn bar owner Jonathan Ehrlich – instead, it was almost the beginning of the end for his beloved watering hole.
âI’ve had a hell of a roller coaster ride,â he told The Post.
Molly was born in March 2020, just four days after Governor Cuomo closed restaurants inside due to COVID-19, shutting down Ehrlich’s Jackbar in Williamsburg.
It was then that Ehrlich, like 24 other New York City businesses, enlisted the help of an unlikely source: Barstool Sports, known more for its snark and viral videos than for its philanthropy.
Barstool has now given nearly $ 40 million to nearly 400 businesses across the country, after founder Dave Portnoy launched financial support for small business owners in December.
âWith the pandemic, it was hard to see places where owners had done everything right, and decades and decades of hard work were taken away from them,â Portnoy told The Post.
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Instead of paying a lump sum, the Barstool fund offers monthly payments, in order to guarantee companies continuous support. Companies aren’t supposed to reveal what they got, but they got between $ 5,000 and $ 60,000 in total.
“We didn’t want to give these places a spot check and have them be in the same place four months later,” he said. “We have reached out to ask them what they need to keep the lights on so they can be there when the pandemic starts to go away.”
Companies chosen by Barstool had to keep their staff and keep abreast of rents and overheads, including payroll.
In all five boroughs, 13 Manhattan businesses called on Barstool, as well as five in Queens, four in Brooklyn, two in the Bronx and one in Staten Island.
Here are some of the city’s Barstool beneficiaries who remain stable as COVID-19 restrictions are lifted.
Jackbar, Williamsburg, Brooklyn
Jackbar offers a unique experience to its customers: alcohol and pinball.
But the game was almost over when a fire hydrant up front prevented Ehrlich from dining alfresco, which is said to be 15 feet from a fire hydrant.
âI was losing employees to go to other businesses that could do outdoor dining and make more money,â he said.
It was then that Ehrlich turned to Barstool.
âI’ve worked my whole life to build what I have in the bar,â said Ehrlich, whose grandfather owned a chain of restaurants in Brooklyn in the early 1960s called Big Daddy’s. “There is no job in the world that I am going to love as much as this one.”
Ehrlich, who collects and maintains pinball machines himself, cites his family, his indulgent rent owner, and Portnoy as the reasons his business has survived.
Eagle Pickle Works (Eddie’s Pickles), Maspeth, Queens
Starting in 1888 with German immigrants in White Plains and eventually settling in Queens in 1950, the current owner of Eddie’s Pickles was determined to keep the business going when he got the chance to buy it in 2018.
âI said, ‘No way, these pickles have to live in New York,’ said Rafal Pisarki, whose company uses a lost art of old-world fermentation methods to make its pickles. “I wasn’t going to let that real taste of New York go away.”
COVID-19 closures have left Pisarski without customers: more than 120 restaurants supplied by his business have been closed.
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He’s still struggling, even after a document from Barstool, said Pisarski, who noted that many of his former clients had shut down permanently during the pandemic.
“Those who come back make a difference,” said Pisarski, who runs the business with his family, including 1-year-old son, Remi, who tests the taste of their pickles. âTrying to protect yourself and your newborn from this virus, and maintain a business that has been around for over 130 years. It has been a very difficult year.â
Kirvens, Pelham Parkway, Bronx
Getting back to normal won’t be easy for Marisa Davis, who runs the 100% minority owned and operated Bronx bar.
âIt’s like rebuilding after a war, a full-time war,â Davis told The Post. “It is not something that happened overnight, and it is not something that improves once the pandemic is over.”
Davis turned to Barstool for help after Governor Cuomo asked bars to serve food if they wanted to stay open, forcing him to hire an additional cook.
âIt’s a kumbaya moment where you say to yourself, ‘I have to ask for help’,â she said. “It costs almost $ 1,000 a day to keep the lights on, and when you don’t even make $ 200 for that day, you have to make some serious decisions.”
While Barstool’s money helped, Davis is still struggling. She continues to provide a sanctuary for neighborhood residents and has partnered with LGBTQ groups to plan events for Pride Week.
CafÃ© Portobello, Eltingville, Staten Island
Owner and executive chef Adam Lener opened Portobello Cafe in Eltingville as a 20-year-old cooking school graduate. Today, 25 years later, it is a pillar.
âI grew up on welfare, I know what it’s like to have zero,â said Lener, who sold his belongings just to keep paying his staff during the pandemic. “If your last dollar gives someone a chance to be okay, and you have a chance to make another dollar, then you have to give it away.”
Lener was already battling adversity when the pandemic hit: Construction disrupted business in 2019, and he’s still recovering after being injured in two travel and fall accidents.
“Without [Portnoy] doing what he was doing, I would never have gotten here, “Lener said.
Mulligan’s Fireside Pub, Woodlawn Heights, Bronx
Tommy Mulligan’s Irish Bar is a family affair, made up of himself, his daughters, Kelsey, KatieLynn and Patricia, and chef Damien Downes from Dublin. The bar stool has become a lifeline for the pub, a neighborhood staple for 44 years.
âWe weren’t open, and the letter carrier keeps coming up with these bills no matter what,â Mulligan told The Post. “We weren’t making any money and we had to do something, that’s when my daughter Katie told me about Barstool.”
Barstool’s dough kept Mulligan’s open, funded their take-out efforts when indoor dining closed, and paid for increased seating options with an outdoor patio – a Tommy said the Barstool Sports logo will be proudly engraved.
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Now that business is back on track, KatieLynn Mulligan is grateful to the community around the bar and to Barstool Sports.
“The elected officials have stopped paying attention to the restoration,” she said. “We think they could learn a lot from Dave Portnoy.”
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