Pandemic-Scarred Restaurants And Gig Workers Fight Back Against The Delivery Apps


When James Freeman opened his American comfort and Creole restaurant in Bushwick about a decade ago, he called it Sweet Science. The term refers to the art of boxing. Not surprisingly, Freeman’s ready with a boxing metaphor to describe the hit his restaurant took the past year of COVID-19.

“Man, it took an uppercut, a rope-a -dope, you know, some jabs to the side,” he says, his voice rising in excitement. “It's like, “Jimmy, Jimmy, how’s your ribs? Don’t touch your ribs!’”

The shutdown last March was especially painful because Sweet Science had never done any deliveries. It has a large, open dining space for more than 100 people and a horseshoe-shaped bar designed to encourage long nights hanging out with friends and neighbors.

Like many restaurants fighting to save their businesses, Freeman signed up on Grubhub, DoorDash and other third-party delivery apps. But they ate into his revenue. They were charging up to 30 percent in commission until May, when the City Council capped their fees to 20 percent during the pandemic.

Freeman said that measure helped, along with outdoor dining and limited indoor dining. But by year’s end, he had run out of government aid from the Paycheck Protection Program and was not able to pay rent. He even closed down for January. Using delivery apps could only help so much.

“Did it give me enough time to kind of to kick the can down the road? Yes,” he said. But it didn’t turn things around. “I'm actually waiting for spring, still,” he said, “so I can physically have people in here and physically have people outside.”