Mumbles at Third Avenue and 17th Street (Photo by Sabina Mollot)
By Sabina Mollot
Mumbles, a family-run restaurant that’s been in the Gramercy neighborhood for 22 years, closed its doors for good on Sunday.
The business has been sold to the owners of a nearby restaurant La Follia, who will be moving in February.
On Thursday, January 21, Mumbles’ owner, David Feldman threw a going away party at the restaurant, which he said was packed with family, friends and regulars.
Reached at the restaurant the next day as the city prepared for a blizzard, Feldman explained his reasons for closing the restaurant, which at one time had three Manhattan locations.
For one thing, his father, who started the business, died six years ago, leaving Feldman and his brother to run things. But then Feldman also lost his brother a year ago to cancer.
This left Feldman alone to run Mumbles as well as two other restaurants the family owned, Benjamin in Murray Hill, and East of Eighth in Chelsea, as well as a catering business. Those businesses will all remain open.
Mumbles meanwhile, located at the corner of East 17th Street and Third Avenue, was known for its affordable American bistro menu.
“I decided to sell and there’s a multitude of reasons,” said Feldman. “Business hasn’t exactly been great. It’s the end of a neighborhood staple and people are going to be upset, but just because it’s a little cold out or it’s raining, you’ve still got to support your neighborhood businesses.”
Business had been “a challenge” for the past five years, he said, with family-oriented businesses like his being pushed out as the Gramercy neighborhood got younger.
“The young influx — we got some, but I don’t know if it’s past its time. All of the young people want trendy places.”
As for the area’s rising rents, while they were not the primary reason for Mumbles’ departure, they didn’t help, either.
“Absolutely” rent was a factor, said Feldman. “Maybe people might say it’s market. But Mumbles doesn’t charge a lot of money.”
Primarily though, Feldman said he was motivated by a desire to relieve at least some of his stress. “I’m 62. I’ve got two other restaurants and a catering business.” And, he added, “I got a nice offer.”
As for the other businesses, East of Eighth is doing very well, he said, while Benjamin is facing struggles similar to Mumbles’ on top of being in a nonstop construction zone.
Other issues that weighed into the decision were repairs often needed at the businesses, and the looming minimum wage increase.
“I started to feel like I don’t want to do this anymore,” he said.
Feldman noted that leaving the restaurant behind is going to be a major adjustment for him and his family, who live across the street. It’s also, he discovered, already hit some of the customers pretty hard.
“Last night we had a big party and everybody came,” he said. “Now everybody wants to be here every day. A lot of people consider this their place.”
He even met his wife at the restaurant. This was at a previous location, which is now occupied by Benjamin. Other locations included Mumbles at 91st and Third Avenue, which lost its lease to a CVS pharmacy, and another at 78th and Second Avenue, which disappeared when the building was sold.
“My whole life has been Mumbles,” said Feldman, recalling that the first one (the Benjamin location) would now be 42 years old. “I’ll miss it.”
As for the space’s future, Suzanne Riva, one of four owners of La Follia, told Town & Village the new location will be an upgrade for the Italian restaurant, since it will make it possible to expand the menu and offer things like pizza. Also, noted Riva, currently, La Follia is so small it can’t accept reservations. This would change once it takes over the Mumbles location, which includes the license for al fresco seating. The new La Follia is expected to open by early summer. In the meantime the current location across Third Avenue will remain open for business.
“We are very excited about the Mumbles location and hope to be there for a long time,” said Riva.
She and her husband (one of the partners) are the former owners of Union Square restaurant Candela and longtime residents of the neighborhood, living either in or around Gramercy Park for the last 20 years. “This is our home and we’d love to stay,” Riva added.