A Downtown Restaurant Renaissance

New eateries open as the city’s pandemic restrictions are lifted, a sign of the path to recovery

| 24 Jun 2021 | 06:03

The crisp blue lettering of the storefront beckons, with rainbow-colored balloons positioned outside like a beacon. The shop is Brooklyn Kolache, a new bakery in Greenwich Village that brings the Czech-inspired Texan treats to downtown Manhattan. Although the business’s main Brooklyn location has been operating for nine years, the Bleecker St. store only just opened on June 9. Launching a business has always been challenging, but even more so during NYC’s pandemic restrictions.

Inside, the bakery offers all kinds of kolaches (pastries with sweet or savory fillings) on display in a glass case atop the smooth white counter. A coffee maker gurgled as a barista prepared drinks. Although the owner, Autumn Stanford, was not in, front of house manager Crystal Huyett was happy to answer this journalist’s questions.

Throughout the pandemic, Brooklyn Kolache’s Brooklyn store had window service, not allowing guests to come inside and closing their seating areas. Now that restrictions have eased, their outdoor seating has opened back up and customers can come inside to order; a similar protocol is in place in the new location.

Huyett emphasized the camaraderie between all the business owners in the area when discussing the store’s opening, noting how other owners would come by to wish them luck or check out the store. Not only that, but lots of people in the neighborhood came by, thrilled to see a new business opening up in their area. “People are excited to see the neighborhood come back to life again,” Huyett explained.

Popping Up

Brooklyn Kolache isn’t the only eatery that’s opened downtown recently. In fact, as more and more people begin to go out to eat, new restaurants have been popping up all over the place, a sign of the city’s path to recovery. Greenwich Village’s other openings include American Bistro Hancock St. and Mexican restaurant Yuco, the latter’s founders citing COVID as one of the influences that drove them to create a place that diners could “enjoy, and maybe need, at the end of the pandemic.” The East Village offers a new home to Dominican coffee shop Cafe Sandra, the no-frills burger joint 7th Street Burger, casual pizza joint Tony’s Pizza, and sake tasting spot Accidental Bar.

Farther south, the Korean corn dog sensation Two Hands has opened up another location in Soho, while Popular restaurant and bar, along with Lucky Star ice cream, have opened on the Lower East Side. All of these locations have been in business since May or June, but they’ve already established themselves as well-loved haunts for locals in their neighborhoods. The different business models – from minimalistic fast food to lengthy sake tasting– are all designed to attract New Yorkers who have been starved for city life and dining for the past year and a half.

Even so, New Yorkers haven’t been frequenting restaurants as much as they did pre-pandemic, which has taken its toll on establishments that were already in business. As downtown’s new restaurants draw intrigued customers, some of its most popular cafes and bistros have shut down for good. In the West Village, ice cream stores Grom and Popbar, which used to feature lines out the door, have both closed, while popular bubble tea chain Boba Guys has closed all of its New York locations. Hopefully, the return of summer and the increase in vaccine awareness will mean more business for restaurants still in operation and more chances for struggling companies to get back on their feet.

Outdoor Dining

The advent of summer coincides nicely with many businesses’ openings, as outdoor dining is more popular than ever. One new restaurant that can attest to this is Sabor Argentino, the West Village’s newest Argentinian eatery, which only opened about three weeks ago. Sitting underneath Sabor Argentino’s captivating neon and ivy wall decoration, owner Alessandro Uva explained that while takeout was popular early on, diners are quickly transitioning to outdoor dining, even when it’s cold.

“People love to go out and eat outside,” Uva said, which makes sense, as outdoor dining is already commonplace and will become more popular as the weather gets even warmer. The dining model has remained even as restrictions on indoor dining have eased, indicating that it’s here to stay.

Like Huyett, Uva commented on the friendliness of locals, saying that people in the neighborhood were very nice and trying to help out the new business. It’s clear New Yorkers recognize the hardships their local businesses have been put through and want to help out – as well as get out of their homes. Still, not everything is as easy as it was pre-pandemic. Uva said that restaurant supplies are often limited by as much as 50 percent, and he has to search much longer and face higher prices to get the supplies he needs. He attributes this to the wave of unemployment and loss of production caused by the pandemic, but as more people return to work in these uncertain times, these losses will slowly be reduced.

However, one thing is for certain: dining out is here to stay, and with it comes a renaissance of NYC restaurants and a hope that things will get better. This hopefulness is evident in the eagerness of owners and managers to talk, and their pride in what they have accomplished. After a grueling year, it’s more than deserved.

“People are excited to see the neighborhood come back to life again.” Crystal Huyett, front of house manager at Brooklyn Kolache, a new bakery in Greenwich Village