EAST VILLAGE, Manhattan (PIX11) — It’s a tale of two New York City restaurants.
At the Ukrainian restaurant Veselka, business is booming, but at The Russian Tea Room, there are lots of empty tables.
“It’s just a name. This is America,” Marianne Barbera, a woman walking by on West 57th Street, told PIX11 News. “I don’t know if Russian people work here or not. I don’t think it would bother me.”
At The Russian Tea Room, there have been many empty tables since Russian President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine.
The restaurant’s website states, “The Russian Tea Room renounced the unprovoked acts of war in the strongest possible terms. Just as the original founders, Soviet defectors who were displaced by the revolution, stood against Stalin’s Soviet Union, we stand against Putin and with the people of Ukraine.”
Out front, the only show of support is two tiny stickers of blue and yellow hearts, the colors of the Ukrainian flag, placed there not by the restaurant’s owners but by passersby.
Lorraine Marx-Singer, who said she’s been coming to the Russian Tea Room for at least 70 years, didn’t know about their pro-Ukrainian statement on their website until PIX11 read it to her.
“That’s a strong statement, extremely convincing,” Marx-Singer told PIX11 News. “People like me would want to find out before they go inside for a vodka on the rocks.”
PIX11 News cameras weren’t allowed inside, but customers who came to support The Russian Tea Room say it was close to empty on a Friday afternoon.
“I think people are punishing the people who work here, but they’re American now,” Matt Greco, another customer, said. “They don’t deserve to be punished for something Vladimir Putin is doing.”
When asked about how business is doing, a spokesperson for The Russian Tea Room said
it is “doing just fine. It’s existed for decades as an institution in New York, and will continue to do so.”
Ukrainian restaurant Veselka, in the heart of Little Ukraine in the East Village, however, tells the opposite story.
With a large Ukrainian flag out front and a line around the block, donations and humanitarian aid are coming in the form of diapers to clothing and food for the people of Ukraine, which are collected by the third-generation owner of the 54-year-old restaurant.
“Ukrainian comfort food brings the community together,” Jason Birchard, Veselka owner, told PIX11 News. “People want to sympathize. They want to come together to support. It is really an act of love.”
To find out more about how to support Ukrainian humanitarians, go to razomforukraine.org.