How DB Partners is helping NYC restaurants build streeteries as COVID-19 limits indoor dining

Arsean Maqami, Managing Principal at DB Partners, joined Yahoo Finance Live to discuss how his company is helping restaurants build outdoor dining areas as COVID-19 limits indoor dining.

Video Transcript

SEANA SMITH: Restaurants are just one of the businesses that are doing all they can to survive right now in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic. Restaurants, many of them, are building outdoor spaces so they can survive during this winter. For more on that, we want to bring in someone who's helping these restaurants do this, and we have Arsean Maqami. He is the Managing Principal at DB Partners.

And Arsean, it's great to have you on the program. You see it all over right here in New York City, restaurants are getting creative with their outdoor seating. What are you doing, just in order to help these-- help these restaurants build these spaces?

ARSEAN MAQAMI: Yeah, Seana, thanks for having us. Thanks for having me. It's been a very interesting process in working with the restaurants in the city. Guidelines are changing on a weekly basis. I think restaurants are seeing their business model evolve over time. So we've been working with them in understanding what their business model is, what their restaurants are like, and sort of how we can expand the experience outside of the sort of indoor restaurant experience that they currently have.

ADAM SHAPIRO: I don't think any of us would wish the Byzantine bureaucracy of New York City regulation on anybody, but is the city kind of spearheading what can be built outdoors? And I ask that because we've had guests come on this week who've said, look, if you go to sit in indoor, outdoor, whatever structure that's been constructed, you have to have at least one wall totally open so that there's air exchange. Can you set the record straight for us on what does the appropriate outdoor structure look like?

ARSEAN MAQAMI: Yeah, 50% of the structure should be open. There are different guidelines if you're on the street or if you're on the sidewalk. And so that has been evolving. This week, the DOT came out with new regulations about sand and soil that's necessary in the structure. And so restaurants are evolving sort of on a weekly basis.

You know, they're seeing the amount of people that they can put inside is decreasing. So it's very hard for them to adapt on such short notice. You know, it's a very-- you know, it's hard to be in an industry that is driven by table and occupancy and then have that reduced and have your costs increase. So it's hard, and we're there to sort of support these businesses and these business owners and their staff, right. It's hard for everybody that's involved.

SEANA SMITH: Arsean, [INAUDIBLE] building office spaces. So now you're building these outdoor seating areas. How were you able to pivot your business so quickly?

ARSEAN MAQAMI: So our business is really focused on the customer, so we really try to understand what drives our customers, what's beneficial for them. And for us, it's really listening, digesting, and then interpreting that in sort of the design and construction realm. So for us, whether it's hotel or office, which we were doing primarily prior to COVID, now if it's helping out retailers, I mean, we're still doing building repositioning. That's our primary business. This is our way of engaging with the city and with business owners that we know and that we've been working with, and it's sort of evolved from there.

ADAM SHAPIRO: Is there any kind of [INAUDIBLE] federal financing to help pay for all of this, or is it really just between you and the restaurateur?

ARSEAN MAQAMI: Yeah, I mean, for the most part, it's between us and the restaurateur. It's hard for them to, you know, to finance these. And we've talked to many business owners who say, you know, we need three brunches to pay for the structure. And we say, completely understand it. You know, for us, it's really about maintaining their business, maintaining the city.

I mean, New York as a whole really survives off of the retail quarter being alive. I mean, for me, personally, I mean, I think for all of us, your apartment is-- you know, you sacrifice a backyard in New York, and the city is the backyard, where, you know, now we sort of are reducing that ability, and it's hard for a lot of people who live here to sort of reduce the amount of exposure and the amount that you can go out. So it's been hard, I think, for everybody involved, including people that live here.

SEANA SMITH: So two questions for you. One, how long does it take to build one of these? Is it something that can happen in a couple of days? Does it take a week or two? And how much does it cost?

ARSEAN MAQAMI: So it takes us about, let's say, anywhere from three to five days to build them. I'd say we're on average, just about four days. They're very quick. I mean, previously-- like, we're very fast builders. Like, we were at what we worked previously. And so we're using these sort of quick turnarounds, rapid transitions, really gave us our luster.

We're bringing those same principles here and really focusing on what they can do. In terms of cost, it's very variable about what the client wants, right. There's certain structures that are immaculate. They're high end, and those have much higher price point and cost. And there's some where we understand the business needs a space to expand and just to maintain their table size. So the range has been pretty-- pretty wide.

ADAM SHAPIRO: What are you hearing from the restaurateurs about their fears of making it through the winter, because the coldest of the weather hasn't hit yet?

ARSEAN MAQAMI: Yeah, I think people on-- like, everybody is, first and foremost, concerned about health, right, I think keeping everybody healthy, keeping everybody safe. And then after that, it's nervousness about if their business will survive. Can they afford rent? Can they keep everybody on staff?

I mean, the restaurant industry-- I think most businesses are very much like a family when they're small businesses, so keeping people that you've worked with for, you know, 10, 20 years on your payroll is tough when you don't have the cash flow. So for us, it's understanding, you know, how many seats, how many people, how many tables do they need in their business to keep them afloat and sort of getting there within the guidelines the city provided.