Brooklyn Restaurant Renaissance is cooking and poised to overhaul Manhattan as the town’s meals capital
Kim Meyer waits for customers in her new Cobble Hill Restaurant Kimpanadas. | Hiram Alejandro Durán / THE CITY
By Ann Choi, THE CITY. This article was originally published by THE TOWN
The town’s restaurants reopened 100% on May 19, raising hopes of owners for a full business – including those who boldly opened new establishments.
THE CITY checked the new 2017 approval dates from the city’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. The numbers show that Brooklyn is where the action is as Manhattan’s star is fading.
From January to mid-April of this year, 832 new restaurants received operating permits from the Ministry of Health.
Typically, nearly 40% of new Manhattan restaurants have opened. This year, however, that percentage has dropped to 32%. Brooklyn now competes with Manhattan and accounts for 30% of the new restaurants.
The proportions for other counties were largely unchanged, with a quarter of all new restaurants opening in Queens that year, while the Bronx welcomed 9% of newcomers and Staten Island 4%.
A “COVID-proof” restaurant
Kim Meyer is among those entrepreneurs weathering the economic and health uncertainties of COVID to open new food operations in New York City after thousands of shutdowns.
She ran a pop-up takeout in a bar in Brooklyn’s Prospect Heights before heading out to find her own spot in the middle of the pandemic last summer.
After months of searching, Meyer found a place on Cobble Hill, along the famous foodie strip on Smith Street. With several storefronts empty now, she said she got lucky and signed a contract with a local landlord.
That was not possible before the pandemic, she said, when property owners “had no real incentive to let small businesses try to open with lower rents”.
However, Meyer designed her “Gourmet Hot Pocket” restaurant – Kimpanadas – to be taken away only.
“I set up this business this way because I want it to be COVID-safe,” Meyer said, “or whatever comes next.”
The signs of life come in an industry that is still affected by the pandemic, even if take-out and delivery were a lifeline for some businesses that has been stopped by state aid and rent relief.
The number of new restaurants opened so far this year is still 43% down on the same period last year, and industrial employment is only 40% of pre-pandemic levels, according to the Federal Reserve.
The New York Restaurant Association estimates that more than 4,500 urban restaurants have closed permanently since last March.
“Last year was the only year the restaurant industry actually lost its size in the last 100 years,” said Haragopal Parsa, professor of hotel management at the University of Denver. “COVID is worse than World War II.”
Parsa said the pandemic will cause the industry to reassess their business models, including how to hold onto workers and where to open restaurants.
People eat outside a restaurant in Fort Greene, Brooklyn. Ben Fractenberg / THE CITY
Eat near home
Residential areas are proving to be particularly attractive locations.
For Brooklyn’s dining scene, take 11231 to Carroll Gardens, Cobble Hill, and Red Hook. So far this year, eleven new restaurants have been approved there – compared to a dozen in the first four months of 2019 and 2020.
Andrew Rigie, executive director of the NYC Hospitality Alliance, said the migration of restaurants to residential neighborhoods is following demand.
“A lot of people live and work at home in residential areas, which is definitely helpful for restaurants in these communities,” Rigie said.
About 40% of new restaurants opened in residential areas before COVID. This year that number rose to 47%.
Opening restaurants in residential areas can also help attract workers and enable shorter journeys at a time when some restaurants are having difficulty finding staff.
According to Parsa, employees take up work that often costs at least $ 15 an hour
Pay “would rather find jobs close to home.”
Meyer admits that the once “saturated” restaurant scene on Smith Street has been plagued by pandemic shutdowns and customer departures from the area.
“This neighborhood went from jumping to dead,” she said.
Her store is the first to reopen on her side of the block next to the once bustling but now disused Angry Wade’s Bar, one of many pandemic victims.
But she says Smith Street is poised for a culinary comeback.
“I called my neighbors across the street and thanked them for opening,” she said. “Because it only helps the whole strip.”
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