If you’ve ever seen a Broadway show in New York City, chances are you stayed nearby and grabbed a bite to eat before or after the performance. Iconic eateries in the theater district such as Ellen’s Stardust Diner, Sardi’s and Junior’s have become must-visits for tourists, but pretty much any restaurant between West 40th and 54th is fair game for hungry theatre-goers. 

However, the Broadway shutdown that began last year set off a chain reaction, as most food and beverage establishments within the hospitality industry depend on tourism, and many target theatre audiences specifically. The pandemic decimated multiple industries, forcing the permanent closure of more than 4,500 New York City restaurants and six Broadway productions. The absence of attractions like theatrical performances and museums hurt the surrounding businesses, since tourists contribute billions of dollars to the local economy by paying for meals, public transportation, and lodging in addition to their event tickets. And while restaurants have gradually begun the reopening process, with many being able to offer takeout and delivery services, up until very recently theaters in NYC have remained dark. 

“We are still feeling the hit of Broadway being closed despite the city slowly coming back to life,” said Zachary Schmahl, the owner of Schmackary's, a beloved bakery considered by many in the arts industry to be the official cookie of Broadway. “Although we are a staple in our community in Hell's Kitchen, we can't forget how well known our cookies are to those who don't live here. We are fortunate enough to have the support from the community, but not having Broadway open did leave us high and dry.”

Schmahl — who believes that around 40% of his customers are coming from or going to the theatre — was able to stay in business during the Broadway shutdown thanks to takeaway service, nationwide shipping, and local delivery of the shop’s treats. 

Those who are not theatre fans likely do not fully understand the impact that the arts and live entertainment sector has on the overall economy of New York City. According to the Broadway League, during the 2018-2019 season Broadway shows welcomed 14.8 million audience members and contributed $14.7 billion to NYC’s economy, while supporting nearly 97,000 jobs. James Monroe Iglehart — a Tony-award winning actor known for his stellar performance as the Genie in Aladdin — has witnessed firsthand the struggles that both the Broadway and hospitality communities have recently faced, and can attest to the fact that the industries are so closely connected. 

“When you talk about the numbers of people on Broadway, you don’t realize how large it is because it’s not just the actors, it’s not just the musicians. It’s not just the crew,” Iglehart said to the Grio. “Broadway facilitated jobs for all of those smaller businesses that are around Broadway…the hotels, the restaurants, the bakeries, all little sandwich places.” 

While the return of Broadway will inevitably kickstart the business of nearby eateries, restaurant owners have been looking out for the theatre community throughout the events of the pandemic. Last October, two Manhattan restaurants announced an “Eat Now, and Pay Later (if they can)” program for members of any “Coalition of Broadway Unions & Guilds” organization. In an official statement on their websites, sister properties Marseille and Nizza, both located in Hell’s Kitchen, said the initiative was a way to “feed the community that has fed us all these years,” while ensuring that Broadway workers "stay well fed and well loved." Similarly to Iglehart, they emphasized that the success of Broadway has contributed to their own prosperity and that there is an incredibly firm link between the two entities. The program is still active today, and more information can be found here.

And now that multiple shows are back onstage or in the rehearsal room, both actors and audience members (especially my fellow NYC-based theatre-loving college students) will have a chance to give back and support struggling local businesses. Pass Over, which began previews in August, was the first Broadway production to reopen after 18 months of the shutdown. Tony Award-winner Hadestown will resume performances on Sept. 2, followed by Hamilton, Chicago, Wicked and the Lion King, four of Broadway’s longest-running musicals, on Sept. 14. By December, the NYC theater district, which lacked its usual bright hustle and bustle for over a year, will have finally come back to life. And with it, hopefully comes some much-needed relief for the city’s food industry. 

“The best thing customers can do to help the hospitality business is getting vaccinated (if they can), coming in to enjoy a meal or treat, and have patience with the establishment,” Schmahl said. “People forget that we are still human and doing the best we can and we hope that customers remember that."