Shareholders successfully fight opening of restaurant/bar at East Midtown Plaza

A vacant retail space at East Midtown Plaza (currently covered by a scaffolding) will remain vacant a bit longer. (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

A vacant retail space at East Midtown Plaza (currently covered by a scaffolding) will remain vacant a bit longer. (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

By Sabina Mollot
A taco restaurant and bar that had been close to signing a lease at East Midtown Plaza has already made a run for the border.
Though initially hoping to move into a retail space last occupied by a Carvel shop and have outdoor seating for 40 people as well as 30 indoor seats, the owners of Cascabel Taqueria pulled out last week. The reason apparently was that the restaurant, which offers bottomless cocktails during brunch at its two uptown locations, would have been limited to a wine and beer license only and would have had to close earlier than its desired closing time of 1 a.m.
The limitations, recently imposed by EMP’s co-op board, came after a number of tenants blasted the plan to have any kind of bar operating outside on the area of the complex known as the triangle. This is currently a common area on East 24th Street and Second Avenue used by residents as well as the public. It’s a popular spot to have lunch when the weather permits it and there’s no alcohol drinking allowed there.
Residents were first made aware of the plan to open the restaurant, called Taco 1584, at a Community Board 6 meeting last month when owners David Chiong and Elizabeth Gaudeau requested the board’s blessing for a liquor license.
Shelley Winfield, an EMP resident, told Town & Village she was at that meeting and told the owners she hadn’t heard about any restaurant coming. In response, she said the owners said the co-op complex’s board wanted them to sign a lease but first start the process of getting a liquor license.
Winfield voiced her opposition to the idea due to noise concerns and CB6’s Business Affairs and Street Activities committee instructed the owners to come back with ideas on how to mitigate concerns about noise. However, shortly before the meeting that was scheduled for Thursday, April 24, the restaurant’s application was pulled from the agenda.
Winfield later said that though she was opposed to a bar, she would welcome a restaurant. “The co-op benefits when the commercial spaces are leased.” Still, she recalled living in another apartment on the second floor within EMP nearby the proposed space and how “noises could be heard from the street.”
Another resident against the plan was John Small, who noted that the space Cascabel would have moved into was occupied by a bar decades ago, which, he said, caused problems with noise, transients coming through the complex at night and rowdiness.
And Cascabel, it seemed, would not have been any different. Along with the bottomless cocktails, the current locations already feature happy hours and flights of tequila. “They also,” said Small, “invite SantaCon attendees to come to their bars during the annual drunkfest.”
Also of concern to Small was that EMP’s co-op board initially didn’t want to discuss the plan for Taco 1584. Small said that at a recent co-op meeting, when the board’s president, Mark Andermanis, was asked about it, he said the matter would be discussed at a “closed meeting” between board members.
“They refused to answer questions,” said Small. The decision to impose restrictions on the restaurant’s operation, he added, was only done after shareholders started complaining and distributing fliers opposing its moving in.
Winfield, who served on the board of directors from 1996-1999, seemed to agree. “It appears the board shares information after everything is settled,” she said.
Andermanis wasn’t available for comment when T&V called him about the issue, but a member of EMP’s co-op board, Mala Mosher, confirmed that the deal with Cascabel’s owners was now officially off the table.
“Both parties agreed that they were not going to continue” in negotiations, said Mosher.
However, she said the lack of information given to tenants wasn’t intentional, but that when the talks began, the co-op board had not yet been presented with a detailed business plan. Once restrictions were brought up, “I don’t think it was doable for them,” she said.
In a letter to CB6 dated April 18, the board said it would have liked to see a license given with restrictions because the proposed space has been vacant for years and is hard to rent because of how small it is.
According to another shareholder, Jeanne Poindexter, the last tenant, Carvel, closed after its rent was doubled. Fortunately for EMP, she added, it’s currently the only vacant space in the Mitchell-Lama complex’s retail strip.
When asked for comment about the plans being scrapped, a manager at Cascabel Taqueria, who said she fields calls for the owner, claimed to have no knowledge of the proposal to open a location at East Midtown Plaza. Chiong and Gaudeau did not respond to the call from T&V. The restaurant, online, claims it has the best tacos in New York.

5 thoughts on “Shareholders successfully fight opening of restaurant/bar at East Midtown Plaza

  1. This space is miserable and I never see anyone in “the public” using it. It’s no prize for anyone, and it’s amazing that anyone would have tried to use it without a complete re-imagining of the environs. All of EMP’s street-level space is a terrible derelict visually-offensive waste. It gives this publication no credibility to refer to this spot as “popular”… get real.

  2. This outdoor area on 24th St. is used every day by people needing a place to sit and rest, by the elderly, by people eating lunch, and is a place for people to talk to their neighbors. It is the only other place at EMP besides the plaza/playgrounds for people to sit and congregate. I know this since I live directly above it, and i know it has been actively used by the community for close to 45 years.

    It is a well used area by both residents and visitors. Kids play there every time there is a snowstorm, they always have snowball fights, build snowmen and make snow angels there, they ride their scooters and skateboards down the ramp. When there was a Carvel ice cream store, people could sit outside and enjoy a cone with their friends, families and kids, and cool off on a hot summer night.mIt has always been closed at 10PM, and alcohol has never been allowed there.

    This taco and tequila bar would have changed all of that, and closed off a big part of a public space, bringing in bar-goers, SantaCon bar crawlers, garbage, noise and drunks until 1AM. It was such a bad idea that a huge number of people in the community rose up against it. The community board received a ton of letters in opposition, and many people from EMP and NY Towers showed up to the Community Board meeting to oppose it.

    It is true that EMP has not kept its public spaces in good repair or renovated them for too many years. All our renovations were put on hold as the board spent eight to ten years and many millions of dollars on lawyers and consultants in a failed attempt to cash in on their apartments by going private.

    They claimed for all these years not to have the money to renovate, but suddenly all roofs on 7 buildings are being replaced, both levels of the block-long garage are being renovated, the exterior concrete inspected and repaired, new elevator cabs were installed, new security cameras are everywhere, all bike rooms are being renovated, laundry rooms repaired, and at least $5 million in renovations are suddenly in progress.

    As it turns out the cash flow from our retail stores plus apartments is enough to do all these repairs, especially since as a Mitchell-Lama EMP gets millions of dollars in real estate tax breaks, over $30 million in savings the last decade alone. These monies are finally being spent properly, and residents hope the outdoor and plaza take place soon.

    As the current renovations underway have proven, we don’t need to serve tequila to drunk college students at 1AM in our outdoor areas to do the major renovations we need. We just need to decide to do them.

    • I agree that you don’t need a wholly disruptive venue to take this space. But then how did negotiations with a Mexican bar get so far that they were considered a serious tenant for the space? Either the bar really did intend to keep a “cafe” atmosphere and that intent was lost in the opposition, or someone’s not doing their job trying to find a good-fit tenant for this space.

      • So glad EMP is finally using funds properly. Hope it continues and people see that privatization is not the answer.

        • Wonder if the majority of residents will vote to stay in the program just as the residents of Penn South.

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