First Avenue restaurant hasn’t had gas in eight weeks (UPDATED)

Frank’s Trattoria on First Avenue (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

Frank’s Trattoria on First Avenue (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

UPDATE at 3 p.m.: According to the manager, the gas was turned on at 1 p.m. today and pizza is once again available.

By Sabina Mollot

At a pizzeria and restaurant across from Peter Cooper Village, a gas shutdown is responsible for taking the business’s bread and butter for the past eight weeks.

That’s when the gas was shut off at Frank’s Trattoria by Con Ed, and since then the First Avenue business has been able to cook some of its dishes after bringing in four electric stoves, although pizza still can’t be prepared there. A manager, Marcello Vasquez, told Town & Village pizza accounted for close to half of Frank’s business. As for the other meal options, the restaurant’s lost business there too because it takes longer to cook with the electric stoves and customers aren’t always willing to wait, Vazquez explained.

He added that the problem started when a building on the corner of East 21st Street had a gas leak on December 18, leaving the restaurant, between East 21st and 22nd Streets, with inadequate gas to cook with. The owners called Con Ed who said the leak was coming from Frank’s and said the restaurant needed a new meter. The gas was then shut off.

But Vazquez now believes it was a mistake to call Con Ed instead of first calling a plumber. The restaurant did later have a plumber come and replace the pipes. The employee said on Friday he was since told that the gas could come back on Monday or Tuesday. “But,” he added, “we already have seven weeks. This is crazy.”

As of Wednesday, February 8, the gas was still off following a Monday inspection that the restaurant says it passed.

Town & Village reached out to Con Ed, whose spokesperson Bob McGee said on Friday the utility would be coming in for a final inspection on February 9. McGee told Town & Village Con Ed would meet with the business on Monday to discuss the owners’ needs and that the utility had been contacted last Wednesday, after the plumbing work was filed.

However, following the inspection, Frank’s still hasn’t gotten a definite answer on when gas will return and Con Ed didn’t have an answer for Town & Village either.

Meanwhile, Vazquez said all the proper paperwork with the Department of Buildings has been filed. Fixing the pipes, he said, only took three days, but the process stretched on with the DOB “with permissions and all that stuff.”

He isn’t sure how much money Frank’s has lost as a result of the lack of gas. “I don’t want to know but it’s a lot of money. A lot of money,” he said. “People are still waiting for pizza.”

The business is owned by Philippe Pino, the son of Frank Pino, the late original owner, and his widow, Hortensia.

A regular Frank’s customer who reached out to Con Ed a week ago for an explanation got an emailed response to say the shutdown was for safety reasons. The utility declined to get into the specifics, but recommended that the restaurant go to a plumber or its building management for further assistance.

The customer, Stuy Town resident Bruce Grilikhes, said he’s been friends with the owners for decades, and blasted the DOB and Con Ed for making them wait until after Super Bowl Sunday for the gas to be restored.

“Super Bowl Sunday is one of the biggest days of the year. They’re killing them,” he said.

He learned about the difficulties about the gas at Frank’s only after trying to order pizza a number of times. “They kept telling me they didn’t have pizza.”

That’s when the Pinos mentioned they’d so far had to hire not only a plumber but an architect on the pipes issue and had also dealt with unrelated inspections, and also hired an attorney in an attempt to speed up the bureaucratic nightmare.

They’ve also, noted Grilikhes, “had to pay filing fees and this is a small business.” He mentioned he’d spoken at one point to a Con Ed rep who said since the building explosion in the East Village, “They’ve been over-careful.”

A spokesperson for the DOB also told T&V the determination of whether it’s safe to restore gas would come after from Con Ed’s inspection. As for all the inspections and paperwork, according to the DOB, the city received an application to replace gas piping on January 4 and Frank’s was given a permit for the work the next day. On January 12, the owners requested an inspection of the work which was conducted a week later on January 12. This is when an inspector determined a fire suppression shutoff valve needed to be repaired and inspected prior to gas coming back on. The business’s plumber requested a follow-up inspection on January 31, and that took place February 1, which is when DOB granted gas authorization.

Over the weekend, another customer, Peter Cooper Village resident Keith Powers, organized a group of people to order from Frank’s on Super Bowl Sunday.

“I can only imagine they’re having a difficult time,” said Powers. “The least we can do is spend a couple of dollars.”

Grilikhes added that he’s been a fan of all the restaurants the family had run. Prior to opening Frank’s, there was Ralph’s, which was also on First Avenue, and where he said Mayors Lindsay and Koch had eaten. The Pinos also at one time had a restaurant on East 23rd Street and briefly, a Spanish restaurant on East 14th Street near the firehouse. The couple is originally from Spain.

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