Culinary couple opens cafe on East 14th St.

Björn and CJ Holm in front of Fat Cat Kitchen (Photo by Maria Rocha-Buschel)

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

Officially opened in May by married chefs CJ and Björn Holm in a space formerly occupied by a palm reader, new café Fat Cat Kitchen on East 14th Street is looking to become a neighborhood mainstay.

“Even after being open for only a month, we already got a lot of repeat customers,” CJ said of the recent opening. “People who are trying our food are coming back.”

CJ said that she and her husband, who previously ran a catering company together, were actively looking for a space to open their restaurant.

“It’s a lot of work in the food industry, working so hard for someone else,” she said. “When you’re working that hard, you want to work for yourself.”

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Diner quickly reopens on 23rd St. for blind customers

Malibu Diner customer Barbara Police urged Mayor de Blasio and Governor Cuomo to let the diner reopen. Photos by Maria Rocha-Buschel)

Malibu Diner customer Barbara Police urged Mayor de Blasio and Governor Cuomo to let the diner reopen. (Photos by Maria Rocha-Buschel)

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

Although the street was closed to foot and car traffic until Monday night due to the explosion, the owners of one business on West 23rd Street between Sixth and Seventh Avenue felt the need to reopen as quickly as possible.

The Malibu Diner has a close relationship with the residents of Selis Manor, a residence and social service agency for the blind farther east on the block, and diner owner Alex Grimpas said that it was important for nearby residents that they reopened quickly.

“We wanted to be open as soon as possible so (Selis Manor residents) know they’re not by themselves,” Grimpas said. “It wasn’t about making money but it was to help the community.”

Malibu has been in Chelsea for the last 40 years and Grimpas said that his staff is trained to serve the residents of Selis Manor, making sure their food is cut up and that they get discounted meals.

The diner started a program a few years ago with Selis Manor that uses a voucher system to provide at-cost breakfasts for residents, and they wanted to continue the relationship with the residents.

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Fujifilm opens modern day photo print shop in Flatiron

Wonder Photo on Fifth Avenue (Photo by  Maria Rocha-Buschel)

Wonder Photo on Fifth Avenue (Photo by Maria Rocha-Buschel)

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

As tourists wander around Madison Square Park taking pictures that mostly stay trapped inside their phones, a new shop nearby on Fifth Avenue is hoping to encourage these photographers to create more lasting memories with the snaps.

Photography company Fujifilm opened Wonder Photo Shop at the end of July and an employee told T&V that the purpose of the store is to get people more engaged in photography by having their photos printed out instead of only stored on their devices.

The store features a DIY lounge that will soon offer classes from experts and special guests to help crafters create personalized photo products and there is a variety of scrapbooking materials to choose from. There will also be classes available on the technical aspects of photography.

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Ess-a-Bagel to close on Mar. 23, new location still undetermined (UPDATED)

Ess-a-Bagel’s corner location is going to become home to a Bank of America and another bagel restaurant. (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

Ess-a-Bagel’s corner location is going to become home to a Bank of America and another bagel restaurant. (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

By Sabina Mollot

Over the weekend, loyal fans of Ess-a-Bagel were saddened to see a sign on the shop’s door stating that March 23 would be its last day in business at First Avenue and 21st Street. In the meantime, customers were urged to visit the bagel joint’s midtown location. The sign promised that the business would remain in the neighborhood although no hints were given as to where that would be.

As Town & Village first reported in January, Ess-a-Bagel had lost its lease after 40 years, with the owner, David Wilpon, saying the family-run business would be moving close by. Other neighboring businesses located at the same building, the restaurants Grill 21, and Rose restaurant opted to close rather than move. Grill 21’s owner had said he wasn’t given the option of renewing. Grill 21, a Filipino restaurant, is still open as of this week, but Rose, a chicken restaurant, which the landlord said was seven months arrears in its rent, has closed already. Another business in the same building, a shoe repair shop, is still open, and on Monday, the owner said there were no plans to close the business. Both Ess-a-Bagel and Grill 21 had originally expected to close at the end of January but had their leases temporarily extended.

In January, Wilpon said Ess-a-Bagel’s move was due to the owner telling him, after negotiations, that he was taking too long to sign on the dotted line. Wilpon explained the delay as being due to the death of his aunt, Florence Wilpon, who’d founded the business. However, according to a rep for the landlord, Wilpon had simply refused to budge when his rent was to be upped to “market rate.” The spokesperson for the landlord, an LLC owned by L&M Development head Ron Moelis and others, said she did not have information as to what the new market rate rent was. Meanwhile, Ess-a-Bagel was to be replaced with a Bank of America and another bagel joint called Tal Bagels.

As for Ess-a-Bagel’s future home, not long after T&V’s story, which was picked up by a number of other news outlets, ran, Ess-a-Bagel tweeted that customers shouldn’t worry as it was just moving down the block.

However, last week, when Town & Village called Wilpon to ask if the new location was official yet, he answered that there were a couple of possibilities, but declined to elaborate, citing confidentiality agreements. This Monday, an employee at the shop said even he didn’t know where the business was moving or when it would reopen.

Previously, after hearing a rumor that the bagel shop was headed for a vacant space on First Avenue last inhabited by The Frenchmen, we asked that building’s owner if this was the case. However, Glenn Koniuk, the son of The Frenchmen’s owner Bill Koniuk who owns the First Avenue building, denied this. He said his place was too small for a bagel restaurant and also said he didn’t want a tenant who had a food operation. The younger Koniuk now runs The Frenchmen, an air conditioner and electronics business, out of a warehouse in Brooklyn.

The next door over, another vacant space, formerly occupied by the French Cleaner dry cleaning shop, also apparently isn’t a future bagel restaurant.
The owner of the building, whose attempting to sell the place, said on Monday that no one from Ess-a-Bagel had contacted him, and the ground floor is still very much available.

T&V also called the owner of another nearby First Avenue building with a vacant storefront, last occupied by the Beehives & Buzzcuts kiddie salon. The owner, Rafael Sassouni, wasn’t around, but an employee said that space had not yet been rented. While there are a number of construction related permits tacked onto the storefront, which is covered by a wooden barrier, the employee guessed any work being done inside was just for the owner’s benefit.

UPDATE: Cooper Laundromat, at 363 First Avenue, between 21st and 22nd Streets, is another space that could potentially become a bagel shop. The laundromat is closing and its last day of business will be Friday, March 20, one of the owners said. He also said Ess-a-Bagel has expressed interest in moving in. Over the phone on Thursday, the part-owner said the laundromat  was not being forced out by the landlord, who he called “a decent guy,” but there were other issues, and the decision to close is “a done thing.”

Word began to spread about the closure on Wednesday on the Stuyvesant Town-Peter Cooper Village Tenants Association Facebook page.

Meanwhile, a local real estate broker commented that he thought a move might be a blessing in disguise for Ess-a-Bagel. Despite being a loyal fan, he explained that on weekend mornings, lines out of the corner shop snake out the door with customers sometimes waiting 20-25 minutes to get inside. “They need a new space — they’ve outgrown it,” he said.

Ice cream dream becomes reality for Stuyvesant Town resident

Mikey Cole, owner of Mikey Likes it on Avenue A, with operations manager Pete Rosado, said his business will support local artists and youth programming. (Photo by Maria Rocha-Buschel)

Mikey Cole, owner of Mikey Likes it on Avenue A, with operations manager Pete Rosado, said his business will support local artists and youth programming. (Photo by Maria Rocha-Buschel)

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

When Michael “Mikey” Cole opened his ice cream shop on Avenue A at the end of May, he did so with little fanfare, in the hopes that everyone’s favorite summertime treat would be enough to lure hoards of customers in.

Since then, Cole has gained a loyal customer-base, but that’s on top of all the people who already knew him. He’s lived in Stuyvesant Town for all his 35 years and Pete Rosado, the operations manager for Mikey Likes It, presented a challenge: walk more than two blocks down Avenue A without bumping into someone who would greet Mike with a big hello.

“It’s impossible,” Rosado insisted.

Before opening the shop just outside Stuy Town, Cole started in the ice cream business about two years ago after trying out an old family recipe for vanilla ice cream.

“(My aunt) was a cook and cooks always save their recipe books,” he said. “We were going through her things after she passed two years ago and one of the recipes fell on the floor. It was a page for a vanilla ice cream recipe. Me being curious, I went to Associated, bought ingredients and just made it to her specs. That’s what became my base for all of the ice cream.”

Originally, he sold the ice cream out of a cart in the neighborhood, in essence building up a customer-base before the business was even fully formed.

In its current incarnation as the shop on Avenue A, there are a handful of different flavors that will be rotating from month to month, but none of them with recognizable ice cream names.

“We’re like the Ben & Jerry’s for the urban community,” Cole said. “We wanted to create signature flavors. I make my own vanilla and even that has three different kinds of vanilla. Everything we do is a little far fetched and out there.”

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Letters to the Editor, Apr. 18

Sick over paid leave responses

Last week’s article, “Local business owners blast paid sick leave” (T&V, Apr. 4) is the latest in a series of contentious actions involving local government.

It might be interesting to your readers to have more reporting on how the elected officials have voted on the legislation. In fact, a recap of all such votes would be a service to our residents.

John Duffy, ST

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Letters to the Editor, Feb. 21

Shout out for another small business

Re: Letter, “A standout pharmacy,” T&V, Feb. 7

I, too, would like to join in identifying a neighborhood store that has been in business for several years at 206 First Avenue.

New York City Pharmacy is a family-run neighborhood pharmacy, and I am lucky to have found Ali Yasin, the chief pharmacist, and his sons who work alongside him.

They are all friendly, pleasant and very helpful, and they treat everyone the same, whether you’re a new customer or a customer of many years. Ali, a patient man, is never too busy to answer my questions or concerns I might have and always responds with a caring demeanor and a smile. And there is Andrew, who has store duties in addition to making deliveries, and a helpful young lady who works as a cashier. The store carries many useful items and some items that are regularly on sale or at a discount. It’s always a pleasure to stop by the pharmacy, even just to say hello to Ali and the others.

Evelyn Morris, ST
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Letters to the Editor, Feb. 7

Roberts settlement a win

As I listened to Alex Schmidt, plaintiffs lead attorney in the Roberts case, make his fine presentation to the ST/PCV (Tenants Association meeting) audience this past Saturday morning (Jan.  26) I was struck by the fact that the settlement negotiated between the parties was not only an eminently fair one, but a compelling one. For that reason I wish to share my professional judgment about this settlement with the other members of the class, of which I am one.

This is undoubtedly the largest landlord-tenant class action settlement in our country’s history, and it’s the only one of the several “J-51” class actions that has been resolved to date. Three cash components ($100,000,000 former market rate tenants have saved in since the Interim Settlement in December 2009;  $68,750,000 to be refunded for past overcharges between 2003 and 2009; and future rent savings over the next eight years that could rise to as much as $275,000,000) form the core of the settlement. It is a staggering accomplishment.

If the Roberts case had not been settled but was lost either at trial or by class de-certification, none of these benefits would have been achieved.  Moreover, the 4,300 apartments at issue would have been returned to market rate from which residents could be evicted any time their leases came up for renewal. The more than 22,000 affected individual tenants would be facing the nearly impossible task of hiring their own lawyers and filing actions to recover past overcharges and establish future rents.

It is critical that all class members understand that the Interim Rents of 2009, damages and Preferential formulas under this settlement are more favorable to tenants than what the formulas likely would have been absent the settlement and left to the courts for decision.

One reason for this is the landlords who unlawfully deregulated while in the J-51 program, argued that after the Court of Appeals ruling returning the apartments to rent stabilization they should be entitled to all credits and increases they would have been entitled to under the Rent Stabilization Laws had they not deregulated the apartments. The Roberts plaintiffs argued that the landlords should not be entitled to any of these credits because of their unlawful conduct. The settlement resolved this issue in a manner very favorable to the class, while the law in other related J-51 cases was evolving in a direction decidedly unfavorable to our class members.

While rents will go up for most tenants under this settlement by a few to several hundred dollars per month, that is a result of how the law has changed in the landlords’ favor rather than the settlement. If there had been no settlement, rents certainly would have gone up much more and climbed much faster during the next eight years.

This is a sensational result for the class as a whole under any standard, but clearly when considering the turn for the worse the law was taking. And since the vast majority of class members achieved some combination of rent savings, rent refunds and future rent savings, the settlement is very good for each of us individually, too.

John J. Sheehy, Esq.

The writer was the chair of a large litigation department of a major international law firm and member of the New York State Commission on judicial conduct. He is presently a director of the ST-PCV Tenants Association, but is writing in his private capacity. The TA, which was not a party to the action, has taken no position on the settlement.

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