These Brooklyn Restaurateurs Are Crossing the East River

April 9, 2024
Dining & Wine
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Sometimes I receive emails from readers saying that I recommend too many Brooklyn restaurants. Though I disagree, I will admit: That’s where I’ve lived since arriving in New York City, so I think it’s a very special place.

When I moved here in 2012, Brooklyn was in the midst of a restaurant renaissance driven by chefs who had been priced out of Manhattan or were chasing a growing customer base in the increasingly gentrified corners of the borough (or both). Many weren’t concerned about attracting diners from Manhattan — they had all the customers they could handle right there.

But wouldn’t you know it, we’re now experiencing something of a reverse migration of Brooklyn restaurateurs to Manhattan. Notably, to the East Village — drawn for various reasons, including some lower rents and a customer demographic similar to North Brooklyn’s.

Last year, the owners of Roberta’s opened an East Village restaurant. But rather than create yet another location of the pizzeria, they went the fine-dining route by opening Foul Witch, on Avenue A. Last week, the owners of the Commodore, an icon of the 2010s Williamsburg bar scene, opened Commodore II on Avenue C. And Eater recently reported that the couple behind Taqueria Ramirez in Greenpoint will soon open Carnitas Ramirez on East Third Street, near Avenue B.

But perhaps the most significant Manhattan newcomer may be Andrew Tarlow, who with restaurants like Diner, Roman’s and Achilles Heel, has become virtually synonymous with cool Brooklyn restaurant culture. The closest he ever got to a footprint in Manhattan was the She Wolf Bakery stand, which has peddled boules at Greenmarkets across the city for years. But sometime in the near future he plans to open his first restaurant in Manhattan, a few blocks east of Madison Square Park.

Through a representative, Mr. Tarlow politely declined to speak to me for this newsletter, but his peers were more forthcoming about their moves into Manhattan.

“It was way out of reach to think about being in the city,” said Chris Young, an owner of the Commodore, open since 2010 and best known for its fried chicken and boozy cocktails. “And now this many years later, Williamsburg is full of deep-pocketed restaurateurs and high-end retail. So in a sense, we’re kind of priced out of this neighborhood.”

At their new location on Avenue C at East Second Street, Mr. Young said he and his business partner, Taylor Dow, found not only an affordable rent, but also a 20-year lease in a part of the city that doesn’t feel “super-oversaturated” with restaurants. Mr. Young said he also hadn’t realized just how many ex-Brooklynites had moved to the area to live.

For Foul Witch, the limited space at 15 Avenue A forced Carlo Mirarchi and his business partner, Brandon Hoy, to rethink their original concept — opening another Roberta’s — and instead go for a small plate-focused wine bar with a “spooky Italian” vibe, as their Instagram profile describes it.

They were drawn to the East Village because it has the kind of young, moneyed dining public — similar to their Brooklyn customer base — needed for such an eclectic, experimental restaurant. “Obviously a restaurant like Foul Witch wouldn’t necessarily work, in its current format, if we decided to open it on the Upper West Side, for example,” Mr. Mirarchi said.

Giovanni Cervantes of Taqueria Ramirez looked at locations in Brooklyn for his new project, but he and his partner, Tania Apolinar, chose East Third Street because it had a good balance of commercial and residential properties, and opening there was as easy as “crossing the Williamsburg Bridge.”

The space is also slightly larger than the tiny one they occupy in Greenpoint, where there are a few stools and an outdoor bench. Mr. Cervantes said opening a restaurant in Manhattan can cost about the same as opening in “a hip, popular neighborhood in Brooklyn.” At Carnitas Ramirez, Mr. Cervantes and Ms. Apolinar will sling carnitas made with pork shoulder as well as parts of the pig that diners might not be accustomed to, like the head, ear, stomach and uterus, which are typical ingredients in Mexico.

All four restaurateurs I interviewed agreed that Brooklyn owners should consider (or reconsider) Lower Manhattan in their search for new spaces; there are still deals to be found, at least in certain pockets of Manhattan, and Brooklyn isn’t getting any cheaper.

“It’s almost to the point now where it’s more difficult to do business there than it is in certain parts of Manhattan,” said Mr. Mirarchi. “Or there’s at least enough incentive to just do something in the city.”

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