Harlem’s Mount Morris Park historic district heats up

mount-morrisMount Morris Park has evolved into one of Harlem’s most booming neighborhoods, with renovated brownstones selling for more than $3 million and an influx of new commercial tenants.

In 2013, at least six restaurants and cafes either opened and revealed plans to open in the 16-block historic district just west of Marcus Garvey Park. The historic district status, earned in 1971, limits changes to buildings and storefronts. Revised plans are in the works to expand Marcus Garvey Park and therefore remove one traffic lane along Mount Morris Park West.

Throughout the 1960s, Mount Morris Park was known to attract homeless people and drug dealers, the Wall Street Journal reported.

“There was a 10-year period, until 2009, when no new restaurants moved in,” Leah Abraham, co-owner of Italian restaurant Settepani at 196 Lenox Avenue, told the Journal.

About a block north of the district, Whole Foods is expected to arrive at Lenox Avenue between 124th and 125th streets sometime next year. In August, the city donated $4 million to save the 47-foot watchtower at the acropolis at Marcus Garvey Park, located at 18 Mount Morris Park West, as previously reported. [WSJ]Mark Maurer


Greenwich Village Soul Food Eatery Coming to Harlem

HARLEM — Visitors to soul food restaurant The Pink Tea Cup in Greenwich Village kept asking owner Lawrence Page when he was going to open an outpost in Harlem.

“A lot of people have been demanding I come to Harlem,” said Page, 31, who lives in the neighborhood. “They said they were tired of coming all the way downtown for our soul food.”

Page revived the legendary Village restaurant, that was once frequented by celebrities like Bill Cosby and Susan Sarandon, after it closed in Jan. 2010.

When he found the perfect space on Lenox Avenue and West 120th Street earlier this year, Page snapped it up and gave the Harlem outpost a new name: The Pink Heifer.

Page’s intentions were good; he intended to partner with Heifer International, an international non-profit organization that battles hunger and poverty by giving livestock to people in developing countries.

Harlem residents, however, weren’t impressed. Heifer is often used as a derogatory slang term for a woman.

“It was 700 against, 300 for,” Page said of an informal survey he took. “The community suggested I rethink the name. There’s a fine line with that name in the black community, so I had to listen,” added Page, who is African-American.

Ultimately, he decided to return to the restaurant’s original name.

Community Board 10 2nd Vice-Chair Stephane Howze thinks Page made the right decision.

“The issue was complicated because he had good intentions. But he did the right thing by getting the community’s voice, because it’s now a non-issue,” Howze said. “Besides, the name Pink Tea Cup is well known so why not bring it to Harlem?”

The excitement about the new restaurant was palpable when Page went before Community Board 10 to get his liquor license.

“Will it be the same exact menu, the collard greens and the lemonade ice tea mix?” asked one excited woman who was obviously familiar with the restaurant’s fare.

“We are so proud of you, so happy to see a young black man making it,” said another as audience members broke out into an impromptu round of applause.

Located downtown at 42 Grove Street for 55 years, the Pink Tea Cup closed in January last year after being driven out by a rent increase. The restaurant was so beloved that a group of regulars started a Facebook page with the goal of raising $100,000 to try and save the eatery.

Page, a film producer and restaurateur who previously owned J’ador French Bakery in the Flatiron and also purchased the Actor’s Playhouse, declined to accept any cash but purchased the name from the former owner for $400,000 and moved the restaurant to a larger location at 88 Seventh Avenue South, at the corner of Bleeker Street.

“A lot of the customers that patronized the old restaurant were no longer around. I had to redo it and give it a face lift,” said Page.

He brought back a former chef and consulted with the former owner to include many of the Pink Tea Cup’s old touches, while doing things like making the space a little more upscale and offering vegetarian options on the menu.

Page said he plans to do the same thing with the Harlem location, which is expected to open in September or October. The new restaurant is located across the street from Ristorante Settepani, one of the early restaurant pioneers on Lenox Avenue.

In addition to 29 tables, Page said he plans a lounge upstairs where people can hang out with their laptops during the day and stay to relax in the evening. He has a 10-year lease on the space.

The restaurant will have traditional soul food offerings like grits and salmon croquettes, along with specialty burgers. Most items will be priced under $20, in the $13 to $15 range, Page said.

Page said he considered several locations around Harlem, but went with Lenox Avenue over Frederick Douglass Boulevard, which has seen a string of new restaurants over the last year.

Lenox Avenue has also seen recent growth. Marcus Samuelson’s Red Rooster opened between West 125th and West 126th streets, near soul food mainstay Sylvia’s and French restaurant Chez Luciene’s.

Les Ambassades recently opened a buffet on the same avenue between West 126th and 127th streets. RistoranteSettepani co-owner Leah Abraham is opening Settepani Brick Oven a block away at West 119th andLenox Avenue.

“Lenox has a more upscale appeal. There’s not a glut of restaurants over here,” said Page.

That’s why Page says the Pink Tea Cup will not be his last Harlem venture. He says he’s currently in negotiations for a space on Lenox Avenue below West 120th to open a Moroccan-themed bar.

“I want to help take Lenox Avenue to the next level,” Page said.

Read more: http://www.dnainfo.com/20110607/harlem/greenwich-village-soul-food-eatery-coming-harlem#ixzz1OpAiBGqf

Lenox Avenue Pioneer Settepani Doubling Down its Bet

HARLEM — When Settepani opened in 2001, it was a pioneer in the Central Harlem neighborhood at Lenox Avenue and West 120th Street. Over time, the casual cafe and bakery became a mainstay and then, last year, transformed into a more formal Italian restaurant, Ristoranti Settepani.

But co-owner Leah Abraham thinks she may have lost some of her casual appeal in the transition.

“It was a neighborhood place,” Abraham said of the previous iteration of Settepani. “A lot of people are intimidated by the look of the new restaurant so we really need to bring back what made us Settepani.”

To win back some casual diners and draw more family-oriented crowds, Abraham is opening Settepani Brick Oven a block away at West 119th and Lenox Avenue. She recently received unanimous support for her liquor license from Community Board 10.

“It’s going to be what the old Settepani was,” said Abraham who co-owns the restaurant with husband Nino Settepani. They will bake breads on the premises and make their own gelato.

Abraham said the new pizza restaurant is part of an effort to continue the growth on Lenox Avenue. Back when she opened in 2001, Abraham said she thought Lenox Avenue would become what Frederick Douglass Boulevard has developed into over the past year, a restaurant row.

“Lenox Avenue is so special. We have the wide sidewalks, the park, the historic brownstones,” Abraham said. “We went to the extreme to be the base but it hasn’t happened yet.”

Abraham says the recession has been a factor but Nikoa Evans-Hendricks of N Boutique and a founder of Harlem Park to Park, a business alliance, said the physical spaces on Lenox Avenue require a greater capital investment.

“The developments on Eighth Avenue are new developments so you have a fresh landscape. Lenox Avenue is challenging because of the landmarked buildings, churches and schools. You are working with physical structures that are in bad condition and you have to spend a lot of money just getting it to a vanilla box,” said Evans-Hendricks.

Abraham said getting the money to combine the two storefronts was one of the reasons her plan to open Settepani Brick Oven was delayed.

Still, when she moved her N Boutique to Lenox Avenue and West 119th street across from Settepani, Evans-Hendricks says one of the reasons was that the space was already finished and only required cosmetic changes. The wide boulevards and historic buildings would be a draw for retail shoppers looking for a unique experience, she thought.

But no other boutiques followed her into the area. Evans-Hendricks recently closed the space despite decent sales to focus on creating her own label and Internet sales.

“It would have been great to see Lenox Avenue as the retail development corridor and Eighth Avenue as the restaurant corridor. But you’ve got to have your own capital or a reputation for someone to give you the money to develop space on Lenox Avenue,” Evans-Hendricks said.

A few blocks up on Lenox Avenue, Marcus Samuelson’s Red Rooster restaurant is helping to create a small restaurant area with soul food restaurant Sylvia’s and French restaurant Chez Luciene’s.

Les Ambassades, which has a restaurant on Frederick Douglass Boulevard, also plans to open a smaller outpost on Lenox Avennue between West 126th and 127th streets. Red Rooster recently won Community Board endorsement to open a sidewalk cafe.

But Abraham said she’s not ready to give up on her section of Lenox Avenue.

“We are moving forward even though business is tough,” Abraham said. “I have to, even though it feels suicidal.”