The latest reports are staggering: due to the ongoing toll of the Covid-19 pandemic on the industry, over 63% of New York restaurants say they are likely to close by the end of the year—with 44% of the city’s hospitality workers—200,000 of which work in food-service—without jobs already. And while no one knows exactly how many of the city’s restaurants and bars will live past 2020, the prognosis for the vast majority of them is bleak. Back in June, 80% of restaurants could not cover their full rent—and now, quite literally, winter is coming.
That’s the bad news. The good news is this: Survival is possible for New York restaurants. It just depends on the industry’s ability to make indoor dining safe.
This is the passion and purpose of Lotus Biosecurity, a company founded by Joseph Heaney earlier this year. By bringing together a team of experts across every relevant discipline—from mechanical engineering to epidemiology—Lotus Biosecurity provides complete, customized, and evidence-based solutions to help businesses safely operate during and beyond the pandemic.
Since its launch, the company has already attracted several clients in the restaurant industry, with Jean-Georges being one of the first. As with every one of their clients, Lotus Biosecurity entered the restaurant on Central Park West, identified its own unique infection risks, and then enacted a plan to mitigate every one of them by installing a range of technologically advanced products, such as the Molekule Air Purifier and touchless restroom fixtures. Now, guests can dine in the space with peace of mind—and the restaurant is able to show the city and public health officials that it’s capable of operating safely.
This is just one example of Lotus Biosecurity’s mission statement coming to life: They really do exist to protect the life of the New York City economy.
As the city braces for the cooler months ahead—which, without proper intervention, will undoubtedly prove dark for local restaurants—we spoke with Lotus Biosecurity president Joseph Heaney on everything from the future of the restaurant industry, to what businesses can do to protect their employees and guests both during the pandemic and beyond. Below is our conversation.
Edible Manhattan: Starting a business in the year 2020 takes nerves of steel. What inspired you to found Lotus Biosecurity at this time, despite the obvious challenges? Did you feel a sort of responsibility to enter this space, in a sense, in direct response to Covid-19?
Joseph Heaney: Thanks so much for speaking with me today. I was inspired to start Lotus when during the first few months of quarantine, I would walk down the streets of NYC and see some of the businesses—especially restaurants—that I had grown to love with their doors closed and lights off. It was heartbreaking. It sparked a desire in me to find a way to get them up and running. My background is in HVAC system design and implementation, and I’ve worked a lot in the healthcare space. As you can imagine, disease transmission in those facilities is always a major concern. I believed that I could lean on my experience and help struggling businesses solve the complex problems COVID-19 presented.
For the first time in more than a century, the threat of infection endangers the lives of people, businesses, and entire economies. I’ve always wanted to be an entrepreneur and I have a deep sense of responsibility to this city. The challenges provided an opportunity to perform a civic duty by launching Lotus and becoming the trusted biosecurity leader that business owners, restaurateurs, and really everyone in NYC needs right now. I believe we can bring the NYC economy back to life.
EM: The Lotus Biosecurity team brings together so many different perspectives to solve the problem of keeping businesses, workers, and clients safe in an increasingly dangerous world. How did you put together this team, which includes mechanical engineers, epidemiologists and scientists, and how important to you was it that all of these different areas of expertise were represented in your leadership?
JH: From day one, I’ve felt that, in order to be able to provide the biggest positive impact on the health of restaurants and other businesses, l first needed to identify and fill my personal knowledge gaps. That meant building a comprehensive team around me with robust and compatible talents and skill sets. I want our clients to know that, when they receive a solution from us, it has been reviewed and vetted from every angle by experts in their fields. I’ve worked tirelessly to build that team of experts with the educational and professional backgrounds to make a difference on the Lotus team and deliver an exceptional, trustworthy solution.
Unfortunately, a crisis like the pandemic seems to bring out occasional bad actors who try to take advantage of businesses in desperate situations. I believe that the team we have at Lotus immediately signals to our clients that we’re in this for the right reasons. To that end, empathy was a major factor in the hiring process. I have to say that it’s been a pleasure working with a leadership team that truly cares about helping businesses operate safely in a challenging environment.
EM: Now, obviously when people read the word “biosecurity,” their imagination starts to run wild. It’s easy to imagine everything from hazmat suits to test tubes. So can you explain, in layman’s terms, exactly what “biosecurity” means, and how your company works to protect people, properties, and businesses?
JH: Of course. Biosecurity is a word that’s common in laboratory settings and environmentally hazardous environments. It’s used to describe procedures enacted to protect humans against diseases or harmful biological agents. It is certainly a powerful word, and I believe it sets the proper expectations about the size of the challenges we’re facing. It wasn’t so long ago that words like “cybersecurity” and “identity theft” had a similar mystery to them, but now most of us understand that our personal digital information is always at risk, and we need to take measures to protect ourselves from threats. We strongly believe that “biosecurity” will evolve in the same way as the word we use when we talk about how to protect ourselves from infections and outbreaks.
We are conscious, however, of the expectations that the word creates. As I mentioned, we’ve invested in building a team of experts that can live up to those expectations by not only effectively vetting thousands of potential biosecurity options, but also provide a customized, evidence-based, end-to-end solution that our clients can understand and use.
Our biosecurity measures specifically mitigate infection risks through the three major modes of transmission: airborne, droplet, and fomite (surface). We primarily target high traffic, high touch, or high congestion areas. From furnishing enhanced filtration or UV air purification systems on the HVAC equipment, to providing devices that utilize UV light to clean garments or shoes, or installing touchless fixtures in restrooms, we have a full spectrum of solutions for our clients based on exactly what they need.
EM: What is the number one most important thing you’d recommend businesses invest in right now, to protect themselves and their guests from Covid-19?
JH: Every business is unique. When we perform our initial biosecurity assessment, we analyze current protocols and produce customized recommendations along with an implementation proposal for that client’s specific use case. We breakdown pricing line by line for each item or service, so the client knows exactly what they’re paying for and why it’s important.
We’re well aware that the pandemic has affected businesses in different ways and to different degrees. By being detailed in our assessments, recommendations and pricing, and especially by explaining the science and reasoning behind every recommendation, we allow for our clients to make informed, fiscally responsible decisions. There is no single magic solution that will completely eliminate transmission risk, but our comprehensive proposal, utilizing multiple, layered solutions, makes people as safe as they can possibly be.
EM: What does the future of the restaurant business look like, from a health and safety standpoint? What can diners do to contribute to making these spaces safe?
JH: Moving forward, restaurants will need to install biosecurity measures to cater not only to guests’ health, but also to their conscious and subconscious feelings of safety. Diners are most likely to return to places where they feel safe and confident. They want to know that the owner or manager is taking steps to ensure the restaurant is operating according to the best protocols available. By making the complex task of biosecurity a clear, methodical, understandable process, we enable restaurant owners and staff to focus on making guests feel safe and welcome.
We offer tiered solutions that let owners meet the minimum requirements set by the Governor’s office or take additional measures that truly differentiate themselves by following every evidence-based biosecurity best practice. We provide a certification for all solution tiers that help our clients to clearly and effectively communicate with their staff and customers that management has the health and safety of their people top of mind, and that leads to confidence and peace of mind for both the restaurant staff and the diners.
I believe there is a paradigm shift underway where diners will begin to seek out restaurants that have implemented measures above and beyond the minimum requirements. The higher-tier certification becomes not only a credential describing a certain protocol, but a statement about the relationship between restaurant and diner.
EM: And finally, what are your goals for Lotus Biosecurity? What are you hoping to accomplish in this space and what has inspired you to do this particular work at this particular time?
JH: Lotus was launched as a direct response to the immediate and ongoing challenges presented by COVID-19. However, I truly believe that this pandemic is not an isolated event. Quite simply, COVID-19 has permanently changed the world, and going forward people are going to be more aware of risk factors and exposure concerns. The struggles of these past eight months of lockdowns will influence the way businesses operate, the way families and governments budget, and will impact the larger economy for generations to come.
With Lotus, I’m working hard to help businesses overcome the challenges of reopening safely as well as preparing for a potential second wave of COVID-19, and any future threats to our biosecurity. That said, our biosecurity measures have important uses beyond pandemics, and outbreaks. Improving indoor air and indoor environment quality will help businesses in less obvious but fundamentally important ways, for instance by helping to mitigate absenteeism caused by the seasonal flu. Perhaps most exciting to me is the emerging research linking better indoor environment quality to increased cognitive ability. As more of these findings come to light, I believe that the firms will understand that investing in the health of their people will lead to long-term success.
My goal for Lotus is not only to help businesses reopen, but also to stay open and thrive in the face of COVID-19 or any other infectious threat.
For more information on Lotus Biosecurity, please visit their website.