Archive for the tag 'closings'

Golden Hour at El Greco

As we mournfully bid “αντίο” — that’s Greek for “Auf Wiedersehen” — to our friends at El Greco Diner, and further lament the long bygone days of other legendary neighborhood dinerial establishments such as Ray & Shy’s Flame Restaurant (aka “The Flame,” where my parents went on their first date back in 1970), the Foursome, which made the finest U-bet’s egg creams on God’s green earth, and my personal favorite, New Clements, of blessed memory… let us remember the good times and turn toward the future.

With tomorrow’s pending closure of El Greco, our little corner of the world grows ever more bereft of places to get disco fries at 2 in the morning.

However, once the mourning period for El Greco concludes (and really, does it ever?), there is no reason, after a night out of marathon bar-crawling celebrating that much-deserved promotion, why you should deny your hypothalamus and grumbling belly the greasy, dopamine-skritching, artery-gorging deliciousness that is two eggs sunny side up, crispy home fries, sizzling bacon, and a piping hot black cuppa joe.

Well, I have great news for all you intrepid foodies: You can still have those things… just, after Friday, not at El Greco. If you’re a local diner fiend looking to get your greasy spoon on, do like Elizabeth Taylor once said and “Pour yourself a drink, put on some lipstick, and pull yourself together… and check out Sheepshead Bites’ roundup of some neighborhood diners to help fill the gaping void that El Greco will leave in our broken hearts forever.”

Okay, she didn’t really say that last part, but still… check out our roundup of local diners and diner-style eateries below. I checked out the user comments for all these places on Yelp, some of which were profoundly bizarre. In lieu of my own opinions (because I haven’t actually been to a couple of these places), I chose the more illustrious comments on Yelp. They speak for themselves.

Read our full roundup of eight Sheepshead Bay-area diners to get your fill.

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.

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.

sprint-1

Thank goodness. Sheepshead Bay Road has what it’s been missing for a whole six months: a Sprint store.

Sure, you could say, “What’s wrong with any of the six other cell phone stores (not to mention the two barber shops that also sell cell phones) on Sheepshead Bay Road?” The answer is, “I don’t know.” But we didn’t have a dedicated Sprint. At least not for the last six months.

Now we do. A Sprint location opened its doors in late November at 1610 Sheepshead Bay Road. It comes after the June closing of a locally-owned Sprint down the block at 1743 Sheepshead Bay Road.

It is good to see the renovated storefront leased. It’s one of the properties owned by Waldorf Realty, which also owns broad swaths of Sheepshead Bay Road that they’re currently renovating (unfortunately leaving several portions looking rundown and vacant). So now that the work is done and it’s filled, it’s one spot on the strip looking a little sunnier.

Welcome (back) to the neighborhood, Sprint.

 

chipotle-2

I spent way too much time making this happen.

First Starbucks. Then Red Mango. Now Chipotle Mexican Grill is headed to Kings Highway, replacing longtime clothing store Beverly Boutique at East 14th Street.

Wooden fencing recently went up around 1325 Kings Highway, and permits were issued in late September allowing the interior to be reworked for the establishment of a Chipotle Mexican Grill. Since then, additional permits have been issued for interior and exterior demolition and signage.

It’s the second Chipotle in Southern Brooklyn, with the first being at Kings Plaza. There is one in Bay Ridge as well.

Chipotle is known as a healthier fast-food alternative, selling burritos, tacos and salads that might make you need to buy special products from Billy Mays’ ghost.

Kings Highway itself seems to be on the way to a remarkable turnaround. When the economy tanked in 2008, vacancy rates along the strip skyrocketed. Now national chains are stepping in to fill the gap alongside mom-and-pop businesses, including T.J. Maxx, and several new commercial developments have popped up. Perhaps the largest one currently underway is the construction of a commercial and office space on the block-long stretch between East 16th Street and East 17th Street.

Are these chains good for Kings Highway, and the mom-and-pops that have historically fueled the strip’s growth? You tell us.

Tsob Tsobe! at Coney Island Avenue

Tsob Tsobe! at 2817 Coney Island Avenue

It was with great dismay that we noticed Back to USSR pulling down its signs over the summer, after two years in business. The kitschy, Soviet-themed restaurant at 2817 Coney Island Avenue was a great place to bring people from outside of Sheepshead Bay, pulling back the curtain a bit on the area’s Russian-speaking cultures with a tongue planted firmly in-cheek.

But the storefront didn’t stay empty long. Some time in the past few weeks Tsob-Tsobe! took its place, declaring itself a”cafe lounge bar.” They redid the entire storefront, interior and exterior. Unlike its predecessor, which elevated the atmosphere with a large statue of Vladimir Lenin with kielbasa in hand, Tsob-Tsobe! is tastefully decorated and is earning kudos from Yelpers.

The online directory says it’s serving Mediterranean, Turkish and Middle Eastern cuisine, but we’ve learned that with local restaurants, that could mean Turkish, or it could mean the menu is a smorgasbord of Turkish, Uzbeki and Russian foodstuffs. With their website not yet built and no menu available online, we’ll just have to wait to visit to find out.

As for the name? We’re having trouble tracking down its provenance. Some Googling suggests it’s something Cossack cowboys yelled at their cattle, or farmers upon receiving a good harvest – but we can’t say for sure. Anybody able to fill us in?

red-mango-1

After a blitz of independent and local chain frozen yogurt joints opening up in Sheepshead Bay these last few years, national franchise Red Mango has staked out a location on Kings Highway.

Located at 1222 Kings Highway, it’s the second Red Mango to open in Southern Brooklyn (the first is in Bensonhurst), and the fourth in the borough.

The storefront looks small, but opens up to a larger space and upstairs dining area once inside. Employees told Sheepshead Bites that the business began serving frozen treats to customers on November 13.

Updated (November 26): The original version of this article erroneously said that Scott Jewelers, which once operated out of the current Red Mango space, had closed. It’s actually two doors down at 1220 Kings Highway, and doing better than ever:

scott-jewelers

We regret the confusion our error caused, and offer our apologies to Scott Jewelers for any inconvenience.

A previous update made the correction moments after publishing, but we’re revising this notice to make it even clearer.

brass-rail

The Log Cabin, one of Sheepshead Bay’s oldest bars, has slashed its storefront in half and is now going by the name The Brass Rail.

Established in 1987, the local staple at 2123 Avenue Z took up two storefronts on the corner of East 22nd Street for decades. But the owners reduced its footprint some time after Superstorm Sandy. That part, 2121 Avenue Z, is now leased by dentist Paul Markel.

The bar launched several new beer options on tap as well after years of being known to locals as the place with “several taps, all Bud.” They’ve also been doing a lot of themed events, including a pajama party, 80s party and, as seen in the photo above, a Thanksgiving Eve Party coming up in two weeks. Unfortunately, it was also one of the last bars in Sheepshead Bay with a pool table – and that is now, sadly, gone. The karaoke will go on, however, as indicated by the new line on their awning: “The Karaoke Spot”.

Best of luck to the new Brass Rail, as well as to Dr. Merkel!

Challenge Fitness (Photo by Bryan E. via Yelp)

Challenge Fitness (Photo by Bryan E. via Yelp)

Fitness enthusiasts sweated through their final classes at Challenge Fitness last week, after owners announced that the gym would be shutting down.

A gym member said her class instructor announced during her Wednesday class that the owners had lost the lease to the 2209 Avenue X storefront. The sudden closure of the independent, family-owned gym comes after five years in business.

The owner confirmed the news via Facebook on Thursday, saying they hope the closure is temporary and suggesting they may find a new space:
challenge2

Members of the gym with time left on their contracts are posting to the business’ Facebook profile to find out what to do. The owner has responded, saying they’re giving refunds to those who contact them directly on Facebook.

Some of the teachers have taken their classes to other gyms, sometimes with matching schedules. We contacted the owners to try and put together a list for those who need it, but are still waiting to hear back.

Otherwise, the gym, which made our list of the five best alternatives to the stinky, sweaty mess at Bally’s Fitness earlier this year, has been drawing fond memories from its members.

Member Zanib A. wrote:

There aren’t enough words I can express to say how thankful I am to have met such amazing and dedicated people as I had met at this gym. Luba Lipo you Leah Love Sosa and all of those fab girls really helped to change my perception of my life and for that I will always be grateful, this is never goodbye and wishing the best for Challengefitness By Luba, there is no other place like this one!

Celeste D. wrote:

Luba, my heart is crying! You will come back stronger. Challenge has done so much for so many people. I wish you the best. You help people physically and emotionally. Thank you, you will be back! Namaste!

Alex R. liked the place so much, he’s letting them keep the money he’s owed:

I had over a month left, but you guys have served me and let me in when my time was expired at times… I changed my life in this gym. No refund necessary. Good luck with everything, Luba!

Update (2:51pm): Leah Sosa, a teacher at the gym, wrote in and also let us know that she is continuing her classes nearby. She wrote:

I’m really sad also, it was an amazing community gym where my kids grew up. But the beautiful thing is wonderful friendships and relationships were formed and the closing of the gym does not signify the end of it benefitting the lives of those in the neighborhood.

I have moved to Underground Gym, 1424 sheepshead bay road, 3rd floor.

My schedule is as follows…
Monday 7pm —-  Zumba
Tuesday 6pm  —- Kids Bootcamp
7pm —-  Piloxing
Wednesday 7pm —-  Zumba Toning
Thursday 6pm —-  Kids Zumba
7pm  —- Bootycamp
Saturday 10am  —- Zumba
11am   —-  ABSession

This is pretty much my schedule just as it was at challenge minus a few classes.

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