Witnessing the creative work ethic from a number of Crown Heights commercial proprietors continues to be downright inspirational. Their creativity throughout the different stages of Covid is played out in real time thanks to social media, and the community is attentively cheering them along. I can’t imagine the struggle these individuals and businesses have endured, so I will not attempt to go into detail without a firm primary source understanding. For the sake of organizing my thoughts, I will stick to my overly optimistic portrayal for this particular article. There are still injustices occurring to commercial tenants in the community though. A beloved cafe on Nostrand ceased operation due to landlord incompetence, a villainy and wickedness that I am still attempting to comprehend. For a landlord to not embrace the intricate relationship their tenant has with a community (and to not jump through hoops for them during a pandemic and economic crisis) is inexcusable. That being said, I am confident we are experiencing a preview into the future of restaurant establishments, changes to the preconceived expectations of a dine-in restaurant, and a preview of what it means to operate a restaurant in a closely knit neighborhood.
This enlightening concept hit me for the first when stepping into the wine bar, Glou, in Prospect Lefferts Gardens in early April. The hip former dine-in only wine bar was now...open at 12 noon. The operator installed glass partitions on the bar, now utilized as a display for fresh bread, pastries, and sandwiches to go (sammiches). The wine was now available by the bottle, along with grocery provisions like olive oil, tinned fish, flour and yeast. I like all of these items, and these items are all available in a single space… what a concept. Other people like these items too. As I was processing the experience, an elderly woman entered the shop, and asked for her daily Quiche. Would she have ever stepped foot into a hip wine bar prior to the pandemic? Now she is able to purchase basic grocery items, fresh bread and coffee without leaving her block.
A large portion of the working population continues to operate as digital nomads in the vicinity of their home. When the local wine bar turns into a wine shop, residents will visit frequently. When a restaurant offers access to their upstate farmers through a weekly harvested vegetable box, a lot of people will participate. If I can’t sit at your bar top, I will certainly grab your pre-packaged or ready prep meals to make a giant mess in my own apartment. Nick Perkins, the owner of Harts Restaurant in Bed-Stuy was quoted in a New Yorker article written by Hannah Goldfield on May 8 stating, “restaurants might need to be a little more diversified, and not just dine-in. He and his partners are finding gratification in sharing recipes, cooking advice, and their favorite cost-effective products with customers.” Other changes to antiquated aspects of the industry continue to make headlines. Hunky Dory on Franklin Avenue was featured in Eater for eliminating tipping from their business model. The kitchen staff also dropped standard labels as, “sous chef” and “line cook” to share equal responsibility in the cooking process. Another change more noticeable in the neighborhood will be the continued use of outdoor seating. Allowing restaurants to convert space formerly allocated for parking into outdoor dining and pedestrian use is a totally righteous act to witness. A bittersweet victory against the Robert Moses ideology of a world predicated around automobiles. A noticeable buzz has returned to the neighborhood, and the outdoor activity is a comforting sight as you stroll along.
Even with the overwhelming pride I have for these industry leaders located in our own community, I am conscious of the uncertainty they have to endure. What is the financial feasibility of operating in a pandemic? How will they remain flexible with the constant regulation changes to food and safety practices handed down by New York State? All summer I plan to stand in line (along with other giddy customers) outside Peppas, Hunky Dory, Cafe Rue Dix, Island Pops, and other neighborhood establishments that continue to operate. Standing with others that share the same enthusiasm for these neighborhood establishments is more reassurance of the collective support existing in the Crown Heights community. If any of the operators happen to be reading, please know the residents of Crown Heights were eagerly supporting you before Covid, and our support will continue until this ultimately ends. And when it does ultimately end, we’re going to have one hell of a party.