(Photo: Ben Weiss)

First came the pandemic. Next, the revolving door of state restrictions on restaurants. And now B&H Dairy, a lunch counter in the East Village that’s been slinging buttered challah and grilled cheese since about 1937, has had to contend with a burglar.

A little bit before 3 a.m. on Tuesday, someone with a hat, mask and gloves broke through the front door of the neighborhood mainstay and ripped out the cash register, which contained approximately $700, said co-owner Fawzy Abdelwahed in an interview.

Later, Alexandra Abdelwahed, the other co-owner and Fawzy’s wife, found the register smashed on the sidewalk a block away.

Alexandra, who also goes by Ola, didn’t understand why the burglar destroyed it. “It was very easy to open,” she said. 

She concluded: “I cannot say he was smart.”

After counting the stolen cash, cost of a new register and expense of future repairs to what is now a duct-taped hole in their door, the Abdelwaheds estimate that they’re $2,000 in the hole. The investigation into the burglary is ongoing, said a spokesperson for the New York City Police Department.

As of Nov. 15, there had been 225 burglaries in the East Village this year– more than double the number during the same time period last year, according to NYPD data

This was another blow for a storied East Village eatery that’s been hanging on during a pandemic that has ravaged the city’s restaurants. However, if nothing else, the Jewish diner has shown grit over its more than 80 years of operation. In 2015, B&H Dairy remained standing after a gas explosion leveled three buildings just a few doors down. And after closing in mid-March as the coronavirus spread through the five boroughs, the Abdelwaheds managed to raise over $60,000 in donations to cover their costs until they reopened in mid-May. They did let go of one of their main cooks, though.

“We’re doing much better than a lot of people,” Fawzy said. “Why? Because of our customers.”

That Tuesday afternoon, customers weren’t deterred by the early-morning burglary as they filed in and out of the restaurant, some slurping matzah ball soup underneath the diner’s makeshift green awning.

Inside, Ola, who was getting frustrated with the intricacies of the new cash register, had a message for the burglar if he returns: “Take the money and leave the register.”