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This NYC Restauranteur is Staying Afloat on Oil

Midtown Manhattan — In March, as Maria Benitez shuttered Pulpito, the fine-dining fusion experience that she spend decades building, she wondered if tuna tartare would ever grace her tables again and how she would be able to care for her dozen or so employees. As quarantine drags on and as the ‘New Normal’ emerges, many restaurateurs are being forced to shutter permanently, but some, like Maria, have found creative cash flows in storing the nation’s excess supply of crude oil.

“We’re staying alive on the few dozen WTI contracts we bought in mid-April,” Maria says of the oil barrels that commodities traders actually paid her to take off their hands and keep in Pulpito’s expansive, yet unused, dining area. “Not only are we one of the only facilities in Manhattan that can store so much, but since we bought it at a deficit, these profits can keep up with payroll for weeks.”

Maria’s survival strategy may seem unorthodox but represents a larger symbiosis: what to when one industry, like Dining & Entertainment, has so much vacant floor space due to quarantine restrictions, yet another, Oil & Gas, is dangerously close to exceeding storage capacity since the coronavirus decimated demand for transportation. The changing world is forcing collaboration across disparate ends of the tattered economy, but some wonder which solutions are viable for the long term.

“Once we reopen, it’ll be 25% capability, max,” explains Maria, “We’ll still need to invest and store crude drums for months to balance the books.” When asked if patrons will want to share the dining space with industrial hazmat, Maria notes that New Yorkers will be so grateful to be out of the house, they won’t even notice; if they do we’ll just tell them it’s artisanal squid ink from the Himalayas or some other fad.”

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