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Hope And Desperation For An Iconic Midtown Manhattan Restaurant

Lupe Rivas is owner of Margon restaurant in Midtown Manhattan. Rivas’ family have run Margon since opening in 1970, and their Cuban sandwiches are a favorite for locals, tourists, and Times Square’s population of costumed characters.

We were closed for four months after lockdown. That was really hard. When they said we could come back, we started cooking like we used to. But everything was basically empty because there was nobody around. We depend on the people that work in offices, and everybody was working from home. We had maybe 10 or 15 people coming in every day for six months.

Once we saw what was going on, we had to give the food away because it was just a waste. We cut more than half of what we used to cook for almost a whole year. It was terrible. We cut a lot. We lost a lot.

Owner Lupe Rivas at Margon restaurant in Midtown Manhattan, New York City. Photo: Emily Schindler.

And then people started coming back, little by little. It started to pick up almost 18 months later. What helped us was the construction workers. Those people are the ones that really kept us going. I thank God for those guys.

December was okay, but after December it was really bad. Right now it’s picking up again, but it was really bad. January was really terrible. The people that used to come every day—especially the people that work in an office—they are beginning to come back. They’re working once, twice, or three times a week. They’re the ones that are showing up right now.

We had to put those dividers between the tables. Even outside we had to use those. We got a new air filter. The lady made sure. She came in the morning and because I had the old-fashioned one that we have, she told me that she was coming back. So I had to send someone to go get a new one. Then she came back and she had to see that we were installing it. She wouldn’t believe me that I was going to do it. It was what we had to do in order for us to stay open. I’m going to follow all the rules. It’s not easy, but we have to.

The Cuban sandwich at Margon. Photo: Emily Schindler.

With our landlord, there was no break. We had to pay. Before all this, we never missed the rent, we never missed the taxes, we never missed anything. We’re on top of things. I just got a letter from him because during those two years business has been terrible. He wants me to pay whatever taxes I owe on top of the other money now. Either that or I have to leave the place. That’s how bad it is. Bad for me and good for him.

I mean, I understand that this is his building. He could evict us if he wants to. That’s what he says. I said, “You do whatever you want, but right now this is all I have. I don’t have anything else.”

For the holidays a few tourists came in. Now we’re getting some more. They are showing up. And I think for the summertime, maybe people are going to begin to trust the mask situation. That’s one of the things that people are afraid of—you don’t want to stay in a place where they tell you that you have to wear the mask, and another person isn’t. But I’m thinking that we’re going to come out of this somehow.

Photo: Emily Schindler.

The Times Square costumed characters wear those big heads. They used to come in and put the heads at one table and sit at another table. But now we have a restriction with the tables inside the place, and they can’t do that. It’s too much space right now. So they come and order and eat out. But I miss them!

Right now we have four people working, and five when someone in my family comes in. I’m missing three people. If things pick up, I’m absolutely going to bring my full staff back. They need to work, and I need them to help me in case things get hectic. I hope it gets busy, because we need that. We need our tourists, we need our people. We need to come back and see each other in health.