On Oct. 9, the Broadway League declared that the COVID-19 shutdown will continue through May 30 in yet another blow to Great White Way performers.
Though the timing was merely coincidental, on the same day the teams behind theater district staples Bouillon Marseille and Nizza announced that they were launching an Actors’ Equity house account program that allows performers with an Actors’ Equity card to dine in the eateries after 9 p.m. and not be responsible for paying tabs until they can afford to do so. Branded “eat now and pay later (if they can),” the program includes food only, and patrons are still required to pay for drinks and tip servers, many of whom have also suffered during a pandemic that has decimated restaurants and the hospitality industry.
French brasserie Marseille and Italian trattoria Nizza are sister properties located on New York City’s Ninth Avenue that have been stalwarts in the area, serving both Broadway patrons and performers. Per the “fine print,” the program is for dine-in only, statements will be sent out “once in a while,” and the restaurants reserve the right to cancel at any time “if we realize it is bankrupting us.” On a lighter note: “Walk out with your head held high, better days are on the way. We thank you and appreciate you more than you know. We can’t wait to see you do your thing again soon.”
The offering kicked off Oct. 12 — seven months after Broadway theaters abruptly closed March 12 — and though the word is still spreading, managing partner Robert Guarino tells The Hollywood Reporter that response has been overwhelmingly positive. Bad weather put a damper on day one but “we had a lot of actors coming in over the weekend just to stay thank you,” Guarino notes. “And other guests who came in to support what we’re doing. That spirit of community has been very rewarding so far.”
He said teams from both restaurants put their heads together a couple of weeks ago to strategize ways they could help. “It’s been a very difficult time for restaurants and the only community hurting more than us is Broadway,” he explains. “They are the lifeblood of our neighborhood and we’ve built our business around them and around Broadway.”
Rather than a simple discount, Guarino says they settled on an idea hatched by partner Simon Oren, who came up with a house account program because they are focused on a long-term recovery plan. “We have a great relationship with our landlord, and so our situation is much better than most right now,” he says of being able to offer an extended plan. In a surprise twist, he adds that they’ve fielded interest from the general public about accepting donations to help pay off house accounts.
“That would be a huge win, but we’re prepared to go it alone if need be. We’re all in this together and anything we can do as a community to get to the other side. We just want people to come in, have a carefree good time and able to enjoy themselves and not worry about money. We’re confident everything will come back, and we can’t wait to see them on stage again.”
A version of this story first appeared in the Oct. 21 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Article by, Chris Gardner.