Street Report: Brooklyn & Manhattan

The question I am most often asked is “What’s the word on the street, Helbraun?”  While I have a pretty good sense of what’s shakin’ on shakedown street, nobody knows the deal better than the restaurant people who are living and working in their own little patches of NYC.  So, to get the truest sense of where we stand today, here are reports from HL clients and friends who own restaurants in Brooklyn and Manhattan.  (We love you too other three boroughs and Long Island and The Catskills and will get you next time.)


Brooklyn

Greenpoint

I feel so grateful that Greenpoint has remained such a vibrant community and neighborhood throughout this wild year. Greenpoint business owners have supported each other through Covid, regularly collaborating together and sharing useful resources. There is definitely a sense of normalcy resuming and our team is almost fully vaccinated. We are seeing lines down the block at many places (including Ovenly!).

While some storefronts remain vacant, most businesses have reopened and new businesses are also popping up. The unreasonable commercial landlords that refused to negotiate with their tenants are suddenly asking for over 50% less rent on their now-vacant spaces. I’m hoping that these changes in the commercial real estate market will not just be temporary, but I have serious doubts about that. One thing I’m sure of- I’m so ready to sit at the bar at some of my favorite neighborhood restaurants again. 

– Agatha Kulaga, Ovenly


Fort Greene

I see Fort Greene as one of the neighborhoods that has a really special community that is helping small independent restaurants by ordering take-out and delivery or dining in if they feel comfortable. Since a year has passed from the pandemic, we have had lows and highs, but still always felt supported by the community. People still want to enjoy culture, life, express themselves, and share the togetherness. Fort Greene is a microcosm of NYC, it’s very diverse, you can really feel everything that happens in the city in the neighborhood.

Fort Greene now is very busy, there are a lot of people outside going to the farmer’s market on Saturdays or going to the park. When the weather is nice, people are doing a lot of food to-go or drinks to go. People are spending more on wine or alcohol. We have much more requests for large parties. It seems like people are trying to go back to a normal life.  We want to take this opportunity to thank all the local restaurants that surround us as we have been in this together and it has brought us closer.Tomer 

– Tomer Blechman, Miss Ada


Clinton Hill/Fort Greene/Prospect Lefferts Gardens:

We’re seeing a lot of first time customers. Spring is in the air, and there are tons of young couples, new to the neighborhood, excited to try out all the restaurants and bars. The residential rents have dropped a bit in all three neighborhoods, so I guess the youngsters have taken advantage of some deals, and now that winter is over, they are ready to explore. We’re seeing a lot more new faces, more groups of friends getting together, more first dates, more foot traffic. All really good things for the industry. I’m also getting a stupid number of inside private event requests for May and June, all of which I have to turn down, or try to convince them to rent out the sidewalk (which is a tough sell). Once restrictions are completely lifted (2022?), the demand for private events is going to be off the charts.

Our three neighborhoods stepped up big time during the darkest parts of this winter, and supported us like I could have only dreamed of. Meal-kits, groceries, take-out and outside dining, even on some really cold nights. I am completely indebted to them, and I have never loved them as much as I do now. However, we are starting to see a slow return to some of those “demanding behaviors” we all know and love. I think the era of “we’re just so happy you’re still in business” is over, and now it’s “I don’t like this table, can we move to that table over there?” Funny enough, it actually feels kind of nice. Dealing with the idiosyncrasies of the dining public is so much better than dealing with all the shit we’ve had to endure in the past 12 months. 

– Michael Schall, Camillo, Bar Camillo, Locanda Vini y Ollii


Downtown Brooklyn: 

Downtown Brooklyn is the borough’s Midtown, and is getting battered just as hard. Without all the city office workers, clerks, and Court Street lawyers who typically drive the lunch trade, the local restaurants are on the ropes. The big vacancies — the old 10,000 sq. ft. Hill Country and the 14,500 sq. ft. Rocco’s Taco’s, which closed last fall — add to the ghost town atmosphere. On the other end of Fulton Street, the Alamo Drafthouse at City Point is still closed, and there are a bunch of vacant stalls underneath it at Dekalb Market, but at least they’re letting you eat at tables down there again.

Who would be dumb enough to open a restaurant in this wasteland? Me and my dumb partners, Ben and Sohui! Gage & Tollner, the legendary landmarked chop house, was scheduled to reopen on March 15, 2020 — turns out something else happened that day — but will open instead on April 15, 2021. And we’re not alone — the new Ace Hotel is accepting reservations for June, and they’ve reportedly got a great local F&B operator on board. If you build it, will they come? Time will tell. 

– St. John Frizell, Gage & Tollner


Prospect Heights

Hello Spring!! It’s happening. People are back, the neighborhood is buzzing and there’s a palpable optimism in the air. Sales are up and we’re starting to have tables packed in the early hours and lines by mid service. It feels good and I can see a path forward for the industry. The second round PPP and relief package has been a game changer and allows us to invest in a real way. Hiring is a bit of a hurdle as everyone in the city is hiring but we’re getting creative. I think this summer is going to be epic. 

– Deborah Williamson, James


The neighborhood has been incredibly supportive to restaurants throughout the cold winter months. We’ve seen neighbors join us for outdoor dining when it was absolutely frigid, buy wine and cocktails to-go in our makeshift retail shops and order takeout and delivery more than ever before. It feels like our neighbors really want to be supportive and for that we’re very grateful!
 
Multiple businesses have opened in the past few months, there is construction happening for other new businesses and on multiple residential projects. Outdoor cafes are full and on busy days restaurants have lines for their outdoor dining.
 
New businesses are opening and it feels like the neighborhood is coming back to life. We’re optimistic that with the good weather, more vaccines and our loyal clientele the spring and summer are going to be very busy.
 
– Joe Campanale,  Fausto and LaLou


Park Slope

Park Slope has a great reputation for being one of the most boring neighborhoods in all of New York City. I know that when I first visited Park Slope as a 16 year old kid coming from East Harlem, I thought to myself, “Why are there so many strollers?! F this place!” My sentiments remained the same until I became a father and moved to Park Slope. After 6 years of assimilating, it is now the neighborhood I call home. 
 
Opening on March 9th, 2020 seemed like a perfect day to open, it was Biggie Day after all, and Park Slope could use more Biggie! A week later, I wasn’t sure what to expect, I only knew that it was a sink or swim moment. If I closed, I’d never reopen. So I stayed open.
 
This past month marked our one year anniversary, and a week later, a year of operating in a pandemic. What I have learned and seen over the last year, is that for all the things Park Slope lacks as a neighborhood, the people that live here have a fierce sense of loyalty to the place they call home, and to the businesses that work their asses off to provide for them. They continue to support the restaurants, bars, and coffee shops as best they can, even if at times only emotionally. And while the emotional support doesn’t pay the bills, it does lift spirits, helping to keep us in a healthy state of mind in order to make smart decisions on how best to navigate this beast, pandemic or not.

-Daniel Eddy, Winner


Dumbo 

Dumbo has a certain rhythm.  The streets were dead, but it appeared that restaurants were disproportionately staying alive.  Operators changed their game and managed to keep their doors open and serve our neighbors that hung in.  It must have been delivery.  With the warmer weather, it appears the people are returning, the tourists are walking the bridge and while the streets are not swarming, there’s an apparent uptick and that’s everyone’s good small fortune. 

– Jay Strauss, Westville


As the weather has begun to improve, so has the business climate in our adjacent neighborhoods.  Although still primarily a “weekend business” for now, we are eager and grateful to see a modest increase in activity during the week.  After losing all three of our guest constituencies just over a year ago (locals escaping the borough for second homes, suburbs or out-of-state moves; workers abandoning their offices; and tourists unable or unwilling to travel), we—like so many of our hospitality brethren—suffered mightily.  Luckily, take-out and delivery of pizza was not a “hard sell” to those still hunkered down in DUMBO and the Heights. 
 
Fortunately, we are beginning to see a solid return of activity on pleasant weekends as more and more people are out and about.   A beautiful sight for us and our peers, of course, is to once again observe throngs of New Yorkers (as well as the handful of tourists that have been able to find a way to get here) resuming that time-honored rite of passage across the Brooklyn Bridge.  In addition, we are blessed to have that spectacular strip of waterfront known as Brooklyn Bridge Park to serve as another draw for new groups of guests discovering our neighborhoods for the first time.  
 
Of concern though, is a longer-term outlook that is not particularly clear or uniformly rosy.   Construction of some massive private developments as well as several large public infrastructure projects have disrupted the previously stable and tranquil nature of our historic Belgian block-paved streets.  And we’ve continued to observe the subtle, yet substantive, change in behavior that has been happening in the way people are acquiring and preparing meals.  It also feels like it may be quite some time before we see anything close to the level of activity we enjoyed pre-pandemic.  Nevertheless, we remain optimistic that once people feel free to move about without fear and restrictions, we will all benefit from the pent-up demand for professional hospitality.

– Matt Grogan, Juliana’s Pizza


Brooklyn Heights

It’s been a heart crushing year to say the least but, I would say over the last year in the neighborhoods we call home, restaurants have fared better than retail and beauty salons. Restaurants have had an advantage of being able to operate outside, where small shops obviously were not.  

We survived for four reasons: our ability to operate outside, the investment we made in making our outdoor dining structure comfortable, our staff and our loyal patrons. Building a comfortable outdoor structure was a huge investment when we had very little funds, and it was a logistical nightmare, but we would never have made it to the other side without it. But at the end of the day it’s really about our staff and our neighborhood. They have shown such grit this past winter.  Our staff all worked in freezing temperatures and guests always showed up hungry and supportive – even though it was 20 degrees out. We are so grateful for both. 

Now when the weather is finally taking a turn for the better, most of our staff have gotten vaccinated, and it feels like we can finally see the light at the end of this tunnel. 

– Emelie Kihlstrom, Colonie


Red Hook

Business in Red Hook — Brooklyn’s favorite “up-and-coming” neighborhood since 2002 — has always been weather-dependent, and this winter would have been a doozy even if it weren’t for a deadly global pandemic,. Now, crocuses are starting to poke out of the mud, and this past weekend was a real preview of things to come, with swarms of day-trippers strolling down Van Brunt Street, filling tables at the Red Hook Lobster Pound and Red Hook Tavern.

At Fort Defiance, our best months of sales were always May and June, and they can’t come soon enough. And neither can our PPP2 loan, still collecting dust in some SBA inbox two months after we applied, so we’re taking matters into our own hands. We recently signed the lease on the old Hope & Anchor space, a block away, and this weekend, we’re launching a regulation crowdfunding campaign to raise the money we need to relocate. Using Wefunder, we’re floating a loan with a fixed return, paid back through a guaranteed share of revenue. We did this for Gage & Tollner a few years back, too, and it worked well — it got us the cash we needed, and built a community of hundreds of people who are now invested in our success. (Feel free to reach out to me if you want to know more about this kind of crowdfunding — I’m happy to talk). Link to crowdfunding here: https://wefunder.com/fort.defiance/

– St. John Frizell, Fort Defiance


Manhattan

Lower East Side

What’s the LES like in Covid recovery season? Everyone is open and doing what they can to stay busy, the Mon-Wed portion of the week is dead slow for most unless there is a sunny warm day in the forecast. A few new business have opened up in 2020 and they are obviously doing everything with the restrictions and takeaway in mind.

I would say people are lining up more than ever to grab something from a hip pop-up or a popular quick service item (think korean corndogs and oatmilk soft serve). Most restaurants have a busy outdoor set up and the blocks on Orchard, Ludlow, Canal are pretty packed on the weekend. Day business is probably up for a few people with the WFH crowd and people who are looking to get out of the house.

– Jeremiah Stone, Contra Wildair


East Village

A lot of new people have moved into the neighborhood since rents have dropped.  Young crowds are populating the East Village especially on the weekends. Brunch action has also picked up and so has lunch.  THe feeling is like we are getting back to the “old normal”.  

I am glad to be a part of this community.  WE ARE NEW YORKERS!  WE WILL NEVER GIVE UP!  We are ready for the next challenge.

-Pierluigi Palazzo, Gnocco


I live in the East Village and we have a location on 11th and A.   As most neighborhoods of NYC became a ghost town for the first many months of the pandemic, the East Village also suffered.  As the streets emptied, the din dissipated, our business lagged.  Cut to one year later and there’s a new energy and vibrancy happening here.  I don’t know where people went, but they’ve returned – it might not be the same people, but they’re here and the streets are buzzing.  The people are back, they’re dining in and out of the house, they’re day drinking in the streets.  

– Jay Strauss, Westville


Nolita

The neighborhood is waking up with the warm weather.  A lot of old and new locals out and about. People seem cautiously optimistic. Very hungry for normal life. Lots of weed smoke in the air. A huge uptick in looney tunes out on the streets. Be safe, Be nice to each other. 

-Matt Danzer, Thai Diner


West Village

The West Village is a special place with amazing neighbors.  They have been there by our side the whole time.  When it was grab n’ go — they were there.  Last summer for outdoor dining – they were there.  When we started indoor dining the first time – they were there.  When it was sub 20 degrees and we back to only outdoor dining again – they were there.  And as we’ve reopened our indoors again – they are there.  THANK YOU WEST VILLAGE — I love you so.

The intersection of many factors are helping the restaurants get busier.  That intersection is warming weather, the addition of more seats with indoors reopening, the lowering of the curve of infections, and the availability and access to vaccinations.  It’s not one factor more than the other but all combined are good signs and business is growing as a result.

One thing we are seeing more of is the need from staff to remind diners of the importance of keeping those masks up as they move about on the weekends specifically.  I think this is the result of three distinct factors.  First, on the weekends folks go out for brunch, don’t have work to report to and come dinner time you can have a few more drinks in you than you might on a Tuesday or Wednesday.  Second, as more diners are vaccinated they can become a little more loose with their diligence to mask up as they let their own shoulders down a little.  And thirdly, a little fatigue of doing this for a year.  Again, it’s not one factor but all combined, with more seats and warmer weather we find on the weekends we have to nudge guests with more frequency to keep those masks up as they move about.

Happy Passover to all my restaurant peeps out there — I hope everyone has an awesome weekend.

 – Gabriel Stulman, Joseph Leonard, Jeffrey’s, et al,,,


Midtown South

How is it going these days? All I can think about is Kerouac’s quote, ” I had nothing to offer anybody except my own confusion”.  I would beg the question that some of the most interesting intersections of the city lie in Midtown South. We are exactly what we set out to be in our places, the neighborhood joint, “old reliable”.  And being like any good local shopkeeper you help manage the less fortunate; the homeless, drug addiction, and spikes in crime within the neighborhood with a keen eye on the promise that New York is ever changing.  Office workers are slowly making their way back, tourists are touring and the city still provides that mystical backdrop that brought you here in the first place. 

– Terence Tubridy, Park Avenue Tavern


Midtown East

We have called Midtown East home for 9 years at Crave Fishbar. Pre-pandemic we enjoyed the revolving door of Midtown office workers, UN peeps at lunch, followed by a strong happy hour crowd looking to throw down some drinks and a few dozen oysters before heading home nearby or on their way back to the burbs. East of us is all residential and west of us is all office workers. Our weekday dinner business was full of both corporate and local residents but on the weekend they would want to venture out and go downtown.

Fast forward to the last year and there are basically no one in the office buildings, most hotels close by are shuttered or are barely hanging on, and the residents to the east of us have enough money to sit this out in the Hamptons, Florida, or wherever they call their second home. So we don’t open for lunch anymore. Our happy hours are very quiet but now our weekends are much busier. I have seen the trend that the public has been so used to being in quarantine and having curfews in their life that they are less likely to go out earlier in the week but yet they go harder on the weekends and are spending more on food and booze. In my eyes that is good news for what’s to come with the warmer weather on our doorsteps and higher consumer confidence with more vaccinations and lower new infections.

This past weekend I chatted with a few guests that were dining inside for the first time since the pandemic. It gave me goose bumps to know that we were the first restaurant they decided to dine with and most importantly trusted to dine with us indoors. Our block on 2nd avenue is 13 of 14 spaces bar and restaurants and we are all still open for business. Some are doing better than others but we are all hanging in there together…united by the need to survive with the help of one another! 

– Brian Owens, Crave Fishbar


Upper East Side

An air of optimism has been building in the Upper East Side in recent weeks. Cabin fever has really kicked in. As a prime dormitory to the city – the work from home economy has resulted in a homebound workforce eager to get out of the house and experience the neighborhood. Lunch business (never huge to begin with) has surprisingly improved since pre-epidemic days, with 9-5ers taking a midday break from ‘the office’. The evenings on the other hand have a long way to go before returning to business as usual, largely due to restrictions, but partially due to quieter streets and cautious customers. However, with the vaccine rollout and spring fever in the air, a notable boost of energy has returned to the streets in recent weeks. For the first time it feels like the wind is on our back, and normality is visible (somewhere) on the horizon. 

– Ruari Curtin, The Penrose


Thank you to all our field reporters!  We will see you next week with more news about the restaurant grants and legal cannabis (looks like they may allow cannabis cafes) and other goings on in the industry.

As Jerry and the boys say:  Poised for flight, wings spread bright
Spring from night into the sun

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