Who: Justine (on the left in the photo) and Juliet Masters, 45 and 46 years old
What: Co-owners of The Edge Harlem restaurant
Where: New York City
How was The Edge born? Juliet: Justine and I opened The Edge about six years ago to create a space in our Harlem neighborhood where people could go eat great food, enjoy each other’s company, and inspire each other. We were able to get a loan from Chase Bank to start with a small capital base, and then over a year, we basically put together enough capital and funding to build the space.
Your restaurant has a lot of history. Justine: During the Harlem Renaissance, there was a librarian and activist, Regina Andrews, who lived in our building. It would hold literary fairs and hosted many creative people, such as Langston Hughes, Countee Cullen, Zora Neale Hurston and WEB Du Bois. This story really sealed the deal for Juliette and I, as women of color who wanted to celebrate the Harlem Renaissance and accentuate that story. When you enter the restaurant you will see that we have a huge portrait of a young Langston Hughes on the wall.
Before the pandemic, did you make a good living from the restaurant? Juliet: We were on the verge of reaching our sweet spot before the pandemic struck. We had become a destination. We became a place where people came from Jersey or Brooklyn or Queens or the Bronx. And we had a lot of tourists who would make a point of coming here too, from France or Germany – everywhere, really – to have a meal and enjoy the atmosphere.
How has COVID affected your business? Justine: In winter, when they closed the restaurants inside again, it was a real slap in the face for all of us in the restaurant business in New York City. So when that happened, that’s when we cut our hours. We have also reduced our working hours by 30%. We were just covering our rent and expenses as well as our labor costs.
Have you found new ways to reach out to the community? Juliet: We did not have a delivery platform before the pandemic; we just made meals and take out there. We therefore had to install ourselves on a delivery platform. Justine: We also use social media to post our daily specials, with mouthwatering images of food to get people to order. It really made a difference on cold winter nights.
Have you taken out PPP loans? Juliet: Absolutely yes. We really needed it. We have kept all of our staff at full pay despite reduced hours. Even at first when we were losing money like she was bleeding at the door, they were still paid as if it was a normal work week.
As the city eases in-person dining restrictions, what does the reopening look like? Juliet: There are a lot of rules in place with COVID that add more complicated layers to being a service business. There is the application of masks, hand sanitization, contact tracing and physical distancing in the restaurant. We have an air filter and we keep the windows open. But now people are vaccinated and they are tired; some people do not want to wear their mask when heading for the door or the bathroom. It is difficult. Justine: We took another month and a week after the city said we could reopen to make sure we didn’t close again. And we’re happy to say that most of our employees were able to receive at least the first dose of their vaccination before reopening.