Carpenter helps save struggling restaurants amid COVID-19

Joel Voisard poses with his equipment.
Photo by Dean Moses

Queens carpenter Joel Voisard is fighting the financial ruin of the pandemic, one outside dining space at a time.

The COVID-19 pandemic had been detrimental to businesses throughout New York City. In addition to the heart-wrenching loss of family and friends dying from the virus, communities have also suffered the demise of beloved restaurants and local social hubs after many owners were unable to cope with the financial burden wrought by the state’s lockdown and indoor dining restrictions.

Yet, despite the consistent stream to devastating news from the city’s business community, there are also some happier tales — including communities rallying around their small businesses, and a Bay Ridge artist who decorated local curbside seating encampments.

In one case, Queens carpenter Joel Voisard has been helping keep restaurants alive throughout the ravages of the novel coronavirus by offering his services to New York eateries who require outside seating spaces in order to keep their doors open.

Voisard works primarily by himself from a workshop in Long Island City, Queens, where an art gallery consisting of works he’s created over the years adorns the walls and floors of his workshop. Even his office table, chairs, and decorations are lovingly constructed by the man himself.

“A lot of it is just a respite from my work so I can sit and have lunch,” Voisard said as he made his way to his workshop at the rear of the building.   

Inside his workshop proper, one sees the tools of the trade such as vices, power saws, and more, but like he said no workforce — just one man behind the curtain.

“I prefer to work by myself,” Voisard said, adding “It’s more difficult but I just like being by myself — I would rather not look over somebody. I would rather just do it myself.”  

Despite being one man, Voisard has set up shop since 2003 and during that time his work has spoken for itself and word of his name and dedication has traveled from Harlem to Long Island, leaving almost no neighborhood untouched by his hands. Being a trusted contractor for almost two decades, when the pandemic began impacting businesses Voisard was the go-to wood worker to whom many turned in hopes of saving their storefronts. However, with rent due and little to no customers, money was in short supply. Even so, the carpenter worked with them in this regard, eager to help prevent more doors from closing.  

“When it first began, I definitely wanted to help them, I would give them fair numbers to help them and get it up, and if they didn’t have enough money at the time, they would come back with whatever they had. I also built the inside of the restaurants too, so I felt some responsibility, so I wanted the outside to look like the inside,” Voisard said.

In addition to working with wood, Voisard likewise assembles steel and glass for the interiors. So, with the vaccine rollout in full effect he sees himself returning to work inside while continuing to aid with some outdoor spaces. It is these outdoor spaces though that have literally helped keep businesses afloat during a tidal wave of economic hardship. Juliet and Justine Masters, the owners of The Edge in Harlem, say that the space they helped design alongside Voisard went a long way in making sure they survived the pandemic.   

Juliet and Justine Masters, owners of the Edge in Harlem, sit in their outdoor dining space.Photo by Dean Moses

“Joel was recommended to us by another restaurant owner in Harlem. It was a very easy conversation with him, and we felt like we could work with him. He was reasonably priced, and he showed up in his beat-up old red truck with the wood sticking out the back, so there was something telling about that,” Juliet said.

The pandemic hit the sisters hard, but they managed to keep all of their staff working at 101 Edgecombe Avenue in West Harlem and now are on the other side of the troubles, serving inside at 50 percent capacity and outside in the dining space Voisard constructed, which the siblings say is now a mainstay of their business.

Although the do-gooding carpenter says he can get overwhelmed with calls and work — unfortunately forcing him to turn down some customers — there is no doubt one man’s two hands has been instrumental in saving local restaurants during the COVID-19 pandemic.  

This story first appeared on amNewYork.