Author Archive

Preliminary rendering of 1801 Emmons Avenue. The view is from Emmons Avenue and Sheepshead Bay Road. (Source: Sergey Rybak)

Preliminary rendering of the building to replace El Greco. (Source: Sergey Rybak)

In Case You Missed It (ICYMI): Here are some of the big stories you may have missed this week. You can keep up with what’s going on in the neighborhood all week long. Just follow us on Twitter and Facebook, and sign up for our daily newsletter. If you have any news tips, story ideas, questions or anything else, e-mail us at editor [at] sheepsheadbites [dot] com.

Still from video shot by Instagram user boobjones.

Still from video shot by Instagram user boobjones.

A Q train struck and killed a man at Avenue M in Midwood Thursday evening.

The man was hit by a southbound Q train shortly before 7pm, the MTA told CBS News.

It was not immediately clear if he fell onto the tracks or if he jumped.

The outlet reports:

A witness, Joey Baghdadi, took an Instagram video at the scene.

He reported that he was on the train and it stopped suddenly when only two cars had reached the platform.

The victim’s identity had not been made public by yesterday evening.

Photo by Robert Fernandez

The former ball pit at Nostrand Avenue’s McDonald’s (Photo by Robert Fernandez)

Breaking news! The McDonald’s at 3540 Nostrand Avenue no longer has balls.

The fast food restaurant cleared out the ball pit recently, according to super-tipster Robert Fernandez, who sent in the photo above.

It should come as no real surprise. McDonald’s and other fast food restaurants across the nation have been getting rid of ball pits for years, largely for sanitary reasons. A former McDonald’s employee responded to a Yahoo Answers request, explaining:

The ball pits in many fast food restaurants have been removed mainly because they are extremely unsanitary … things such as food, band aids and even soiled diapers to be disposed within the ball pit. It isn’t practical for the cleaning staff at fast food restaurants such as McDonald’s to clean the ball pit various times throughout the day so those items sit in the ball pit causing bacteria to spread throughout all of the balls.

The ball pit castrations came around the same time as a headline-grabbing study in 2011 that looked at just how filthy America’s 15,000 playroom facilities were.

Dr. Erin Carr-Jordan’s analysis revealed:

Not only did we find pathogens that could make children ill, we found bacteria that were potentially deadly.

… Among my bacterial findings: Staph aureus, Pseudomonas, E. coli, Bacillus cereus and Coliforms. These can cause everything from nausea and vomiting, to skin infections, meningitis and death.

There was also quite a bit of poop on those balls.

Sure makes you look differently at that floor in the photo above, doesn’t it?

The Vitagraph smokestack (Source: Lisanne Anderson)

The Vitagraph smokestack (Source: Lisanne Anderson)

Preservationists have been bracing themselves for news of the Vitagraph smokestack’s fate ever since scaffolding was placed around it in October. Now the developer who owns the 1263 East 14th Street property has filed plans to construct a new eight-story residential building with 302-units.

Sheepshead Bites was the first to report that Hampshire Properties purchased the 107-year-old smokestack and adjoining lot, currently occupied by the Shulamith School for Girls, for $20 million. No plans for construction were immediately filed.

That paperwork went in on Friday, as YIMBY reports:

Woods Bagot is listed as the architect…  Renderings for 1263 East 14th Street have not yet been released, but at first glance, its prospects would appear promising.

Hampshire Properties is listed as the developer, and the residential zoning area will measure 277,406 square feet. The property has an alternate address of 1277 Locust Avenue, and is currently occupied by an 85,000 square foot school that must first be demolished.

The building will be 80 feet fall, covering 64 percent of the lot, according to DOB filings. There will be enclosed attendant parking for 152 cars, the minimum required by zoning. There will also be parking for 153 bicycles.

Documents show that there will be a fitness room, meeting room, lounge with reading and children’s spaces, an outdoor recreation area, a tenant business center and a multi-purpose room.

There will be no commercial space in the new development. It’s not clear if the units will be condos, rentals or a mix of the two.

The plans are still pending review by the Department of Buildings, and no permits for demolition have been filed.

Hampshire Properties, is a Midwood-based manager and developer of residential and commercial properties, including several in Midwood, Sheepshead Bay and Manhattan Beach.

When scaffolding was erected around the smokestack earlier this year, preservationists were concerned it would be demolished. A petition started by neighbors currently has 534 signatures.

More than a century old, it’s one of the last symbols of Midwood’s film production history. Vitagraph was a leading silent film company based out of the building now set to be demolished. It was purchased by Warner Brothers in 1925, and later NBC, which also used the more modern facility across East 14th Street until the early years of the 21st Century.

The former Vitagraph facility was repurposed by Yeshiva University in 1967.

Attempts to landmark the smokestack, which sits at the northeast corner of the former studio and on which the Vitagraph emblem is still visible to subway straphangers, have previously failed to win approval from the Landmarks Preservation Commission.

bay-toy-drive

Bay Improvement Group did it again!

The group had its 24th annual holiday bash this past Sunday, bringing together more than 150 people to rock out to tunes and collect toys for some of the area’s neediest kids.

The do-gooders, with help from sponsors including Councilman Chaim Deutsch and Assemblywoman Helen Weinstein, as well as businesses like Jimmy’s Famous Heroes and the Baron DeKalb Knights of Columbus, raked it more than 850 brand new toys.

After the party, the toys were distributed to the group’s longtime partner, a local shelter for battered women, as well a new recipient, Coney Island Hospital’s pediatric unit, where they’ll be given out to terminally ill kids.

“The people and toys kept coming, we didn’t have time to open the many bags [at the event],” BIG President Steve Barrison wrote to Sheepshead Bites. “It was a success and all the toys were delivered to the shelters and Coney Island Hospital pediatrics!”

toys-14

As of last year, the local Toys for Tots drive has collected 55,430 toys for needy children.

The 41st Assembly District Democratic Club has organized the largest Toys for Tots drive in New York City for eight years straight, and they’re aiming to make it nine this year.

Help keep the title in Southern Brooklyn by bringing new, unwrapped toys to the club tomorrow night, from 7:30pm to 9pm at 2952 Avenue R.

Sandy the Seagull will be in attendance, and there will be food, music and lots and lots of happy kids. Also, plenty of elected officials, if that’s what does it for you.

If you can’t make it but want to make a donation to purchase toys for needy children, send a check to the address listed in the flier above.

ToysForTotsInvite

A waiter takes an order at El Greco. Photo by Ned Berke.

A waiter takes an order at El Greco. Photo by Ned Berke.

by Sam Shokin

In this Age of The Foodie, where words like “microbrewery” and “cronut” are colloquial terms, and “gentrification” has been buzzwordified to the point of mass semantic satiation, the people of Southern Brooklyn have but a few classic eateries left standing in their midst. And by the end of this week, they will be down another: El Greco Diner.

My friends, this place isn’t just a diner. El Greco is an institution. It is one of the last bastions of unironic, untrendy diners in this town; a place for locals to congregate over mediocre food, to rejoice in the spirit of community, and to cope with life’s trials and tribulations by inhaling fistfuls of cheesecake. It is one of those special places that get bestowed the title “greasy spoon” as a term of endearment. With its two-and-a-half star Yelp rating, its urban legends of rat infestations and brash mockery of portion control, El Greco has managed all these years to shrug off foodie culture while consistently drawing in people in droves — until now.

I can’t say that I blame you, Mr. Venetoklis. Thirteen million dollars is no paltry sum. I come from a family of small business owners myself. I get it. But when I read last week’s headline, I was shocked. All of us were shocked. It’s like reading about the death of a celebrity you haven’t thought about in a while, but who’s been a household name since before you were born. El Greco was the place we local kids would stumble into after-hours before we were old enough for bars or cool enough for fake IDs. It’s where I drank bottomless two-dollar coffee with my parents while people-watching outdoors or in. It’s not a local haunt; it’s not just a mainstay — El Greco is Sheepshead Bay.

El Greco, the fact that you’re on Facebook makes me cringe the way I do when anyone over 60 speaks of “the Twitter.” You’re not about that. You were never about that. You were open, 24 hours a day, to harbor poor souls braving the Bay’s frigid winds in mid-January. Your landmark location, the corner of Emmons Avenue and Sheepshead Bay Road, will forever be emblazoned in my memory as as a community cornerstone; the place where so many of us came of age. Hell, even my parents ate here when they first came to this country over 30 years ago. The diner is practically family.

El Greco, with your complimentary heaps of slaw and canned bean salad (the poor man’s antipasti); your oversized plastic menus and your (mostly) darling wait staff  – you are the greasy connecting thread between the many cultures, religions, and age groups of this diverse community. Everyone in this town has a “3am at El Greco” story. Some people visit you religiously; others, ironically. There are people who swear by your gyro platter. For me, growing up in Southern Brooklyn, ridiculing this place was basically a right of passage. But I’ll still be sad when you’re gone – razed to the ground to make way for more condos.

But such is life, and such is gentrification (there’s that word again). So, El Greco, I guess this is goodbye. Thank you for all the good times.

Samantha Shokin, is an essayist, singer, and former resident of Bensonhurst and Brighton Beach (the latter of which she wrote about here.) Her writing has appeared in Vice, the Village Voice and Thought Catalog, among others. Read more of her work at www.samshokin.com

Preliminary rendering of the new building to replace El Greco at 1801 Emmons Avenue. The view is from Emmons Avenue and Sheepshead Bay Road. (Source: Sergey Rybak)

Preliminary rendering of the new building to replace El Greco at 1809 Emmons Avenue. The view is from Emmons Avenue and Sheepshead Bay Road. (Source: Sergey Rybak)

EXCLUSIVE: A seven-story condominium building with ground-level retail, abundant parking and a 9,000-square-foot landscaped public plaza will soon be constructed at Sheepshead Bay Road and Emmons Avenue, replacing El Greco Diner, the new owners told Sheepshead Bites in an exclusive interview.

Buyer Sergey Rybak detailed his preliminary plans following the $13 million sale of the 1809 Emmons Avenue property on Friday, which he purchased with partner Jason Reznik under the name 1809 Emmons Avenue LLC. Rybak’s company, Rybak Development, is overseeing construction.

Rybak Development already has a track record in the area. The company is part owner of the MatchPoint NYC sports complex on Shell Road, and is developing several luxury condominium projects in the area, including 3041 Ocean Avenue and 104 West End Avenue, as well as commercial projects like 1810 Voorhies Avenue. Their roster of developments is almost exclusively in Southern Brooklyn.

At the moment, all plans shared with Sheepshead Bites, including the plaza and the layout of the building, are subject to change. The final project, he hopes, will be as-of-right, meaning no approval from the Community Board or Board of Standards and Appeals will be required – but that can change, too.

See more renderings, and learn details of the plan for 1801 Emmons Avenue.

Neptune Avenue and West 6th Street, the scene of the accident. (Source: Google Maps)

Neptune Avenue and West 6th Street, the scene of the accident. (Source: Google Maps)

A 55-year-old man is dead after being struck by an Access-A-Ride van on Neptune Avenue on Sunday.

The man, who has yet to be identified by police, was crossing Neptune Avenue at West 6th Street on Sunday at 5:44pm when the van heading eastbound on Neptune hit him.

EMS transported the pedestrian to Lutheran Hospital where he was pronounced dead on arrival.

The driver, a 30-year-old man, stayed on the scene. The investigation is ongoing, but police told reporters that no charges are expected.

elgreco

UPDATE: See the exclusive renderings for the building the new owners have planned for this space.

El Greco Diner is bustling with nostalgic patrons since news of its impending closure after 40 years of business became public.

“It’s been crazy since you ran the story,” owner George Venetoklis told Sheepshead Bites. “Lines to get in. Too bad we are closing. Packed as we speak.”

Venetoklis said the deal for the 1821 Emmons Avenue location officially closed Friday morning. He declined to name the buyer or the sale price, but Sheepshead Bites learned that Rybak Development purchased the property for $13 million with plans to build a mixed-use property and public plaza. An auction to sell off the restaurant’s equipment is scheduled for late December.

Venetoklis said a sale has been in the works for some time, as he, his brother Peter and mother Anastasia put blood, sweat and tears into keeping it going in a changing community and economy.

“We had a really good run. A lot of businesses, at some point the model just changes. Our model was large portions at good prices. Our food prices were beginning to skyrocket and we couldn’t keep up,” he said. Other economic factors were also at play. “Real estate taxes, labor costs, everything took its toll. As a family, we realized we put in our time. Forty years, it was time to move on.”

A final breakfast of two eggs over easy with sausage and English muffin for this reporter.

A final breakfast of two eggs over easy with sausage and English muffin for this reporter.

El Greco’s owners did mount a search prior to the deal to sell the business and keep it in operation, but they said businesses like theirs have a shrinking place in communities.

“We were looking for a more modern version of the El Greco family to come in and take over,” he said. “I think that [Sheepshead Bay] has been doing well, but it’s just that the larger corporate-run businesses are the ones that have greater longevity and more backing and more ability to do things in a different way. That’s just what the nature of the beast is.”

It wasn’t an easy decision to close the diner. Founded by George’s father Minos in 1974, El Greco’s remained a true family business, where the two brothers were raised and eventually worked to keep the elder Venetoklis’ memory alive 20 years after his passing.

I was three-and-a-half when it opened, and my mother is fighting off tears.” he said. “I have four children … and they were heartbroken. I can understand it because I was basically their age when I was growing up in this restaurant. My 8-year-old turned to me and said, ‘Dad, what are you going to do?’ I said ‘I’ll spend more time with you.’”

Venetoklis said it’s the relationships he makes with customers, employees and business suppliers that he’ll miss the most.

“The highlights have been the customers and the friendships we made. This place has never closed, the business has a life of its own. It doesn’t sleep. And I’ve worked every shift in this place; I’ve seen the neighborhood change. I’ve seen the menu change – we had items that we’ve had to remove because the customers weren’t around to eat them,” he said.

The restaurant, recently named one of the borough’s best diners, was teeming with longtime regulars on Saturday afternoon. Chatter about the pending closure could be overheard at almost every table.

Among the regulars were Marc and Zoya Baroda, a Mill Basin husband and wife who met at the restaurant nearly 20 years ago and who now visit regularly with their three children, ages 6 to 15.

“I worked here as a hostess, and he was the pickle man,” said Zoya. It was 1995, and she got the job because she was a frequent patron. “I grew up here. I came here before I met him, before I worked here, and this was the place to go after a club or a night out and this is where to meet up.”

Marc and Zoya Baroda with their three kids. They say they'll be back again before the restaurant closes for good.

Marc and Zoya Baroda with their three kids. They say they’ll be back again before the restaurant closes for good.

Her future husband made the regular deliveries for Mr. Pickle – which he’ll continue to do until the closing this week.

“He’d flirt, of course. He delivered, and would come to the cashier and I’d have to pay him and he’d flirt,” she said.

It took a vacation out of town to work up the nerve to ask her out, said Marc.

“I was talking, talking and one time when I went on vacation to Mexico, one of the guys who works for me, I told him to tell Zoya when I come back I’m going to be looking for her,” boasted Marc.

He did, and they married two years later. They took their wedding photos inside the restaurant.

“There’s an old joke I used to do with Peter and George after we got married. Every time she got pregnant, I’d tell them the price of the pickles went up,” he laughed.

When they found out it was closing, “I was shocked. I was completely distraught. And my phone has been going off non-stop. My friends who moved out of Brooklyn saying that they have to come to New York to have that last breakfast or lunch or whatever,” said Zoya. “I’m very sad to see the place go, but all good things must come to end.”

“I’m not just losing a diner, I’m also losing a client. But I’m not losing a friend,” he said of Peter and George.

Venetoklis said such sentiments have been endlessly echoed by regulars, and that’s what they’ll remember the most when they lock the diner’s doors for a final time.

“It’s bittersweet. It hurts, but at the same time it feels good,” he said.

Next »