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Lin-Manuel Miranda Can’t Save All Our Favorite Places

In the struggle against skyrocketing New York rents, it helps to have Lin-Manuel Miranda on your side. When news broke in January of the upcoming closing of Coogan’s, a beloved Irish pub in Washington Heights, after its landlord, NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital, demanded a $40,000 per month rent increase, Miranda tweeted to his 2.3 million Twitter followers, “I love Coogan’s. My stomach hurts from this news.” (2,300 likes.)

Within 48 hours, an online petition to save the restaurant had garnered more than 15,000 signatures, and local politicians had started making calls to the hospital demanding that it renew Coogan’s lease at a reasonable rent. By the end of the week, Coogan’s co-owner Dave Hunt had a handshake deal for an affordable lease renewal. That night, he signed the papers in the back room of the pub as the celebration was already under way in the bar. Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer and Congressman Adriano Espaillat were there, as was Miranda, singing “Happy Birthday” to patrons and tweeting about the victory. (3,600 likes.)

A week or so later, on January 21, Washington Heights residents gathered once more, this time for a rally to save Galicia, a Spanish restaurant three blocks north of Coogan’s. According to owner Ramón Calo, Galicia’s landlord, Edel Family Management, was demanding a $20,000 per month rent increase. Standing in front of handmade posters reading “Save Galicia” and “Salvemos a Galicia,” activists and politicians spoke out to call on the landlord to offer Galicia more reasonable terms. Another online petition — “Let’s Save Galicia Restaurant, too!” — went live. To date, the petition has gathered only 1,600 signatures. Miranda didn’t tweet. (Zero likes.) According to Calo’s son Cristian, Galicia recently lost a court battle for its survival and will be forced to close on June 30.

More than a quarter-million small businesses exist in New York City employing more than 1.2 million workers, and the Small Business Congress estimates that more than a thousand close each month, many for reasons other than rising rents. Local advocates are hoping for the passage of a robust Small Business Jobs Survival Act, which was reintroduced by Washington Heights Councilmember Ydanis Rodriguez for the umpteenth time in the City Council on March 22. The proposed law would grant lease renewal rights to commercial tenants, somewhat leveling the playing field between small businesses and landlords, who currently can evict store owners at will when their leases expire, regardless of how much cash and sweat equity they’ve put into their businesses.

Lena Meléndez, an activist with Dominicanos Pro Defensa Negocios y Viviendas (Dominicans in Defense of Businesses and Housing), says the lack of legal protections for small business owners are especially devastating in neighborhoods like Washington Heights and Inwood, where rezoning is likely. “We are talking about the decimation of any kind of wealth that has been amassed by this majority-minority community,” she says.

Calo, who built his business in the lean years of the 1980s, says that now, after so many people worked to build up the neighborhood, it’s hard to see landlords and developers looking to cash in: “They’re getting the luxury of eating the steak while we were stuck with eating the bone.”

***

Calo says he came to New York in 1985 from Boiro, a small town in the region of Galicia on the northwest coast of Spain. He hadn’t originally intended to stay, but after five years in the city he had an opportunity to become co-owner of a restaurant at 172nd Street and Broadway. His friends said he was crazy. “Why would you go up there? You’re going to end up dead!” he recalls them telling him. But he remembers thinking, “I’m only going to sell food. I’m not going to do harm to anybody. So why shouldn’t I be able to go?”

Calo knew for years that renewing his lease, which was set to expire in October 2017, might be difficult, so in 2015 he began calling his landlord to start negotiations. For the next two years, he says, he called a couple of times a week, finally receiving his landlord’s offer only a few weeks before the end of the lease. Calo figured the highest rent increase he could sustain was about 40 percent of the $5,000 a month he was paying. Edel Family Management asked for a 400 percent jump, Calo says, which would raise his rent to $25,000 a month. (Edel Family Management did not respond to a Voice request for comment.)

The landlord also wanted him to expand into the commercial space next door, an expensive and disruptive proposition that still wouldn’t have brought in enough revenue to cover the increase. “It was basically a diplomatic way to ask for us to leave,” says Calo.

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Calo started crying shortly after being asked how he felt about his eviction. A minute or two later, he came back to the table and said, “I can’t lie: pretty bad. It’s just tough, knowing that one person can just say, ‘This is the end for you. You have to start over.’ ” He said he was worried about his employees, many of whom had worked at the restaurant for years. He was concerned about his financial future. And he was saddened by the prospect of losing the physical space where he’d made so many memories: the times when taxi drivers and truckers came for a warm meal late at night, the dance parties he and the staff had had while cleaning up after closing.

“The location itself is part of the family. It’s where my sons grew up. My wife works here. I’ve worked here for thirty years. It’s just a heartbreaking struggle — how one person can determine whether this is the end or not.”

***

An early version of the SBJSA was first introduced in 1986 by then-Councilmember Ruth Messinger. It was first voted down in 1988, and has resurfaced multiple times since, with 27 councilmembers signing on as co-sponsors by 2016. Yet the bill has never made it to a full council vote, as real estate interests have complained that its provisions were of dubious legality and would present too much of a hardship for commercial landlords.

The goal of the SBJSA is to make it so that no one person can determine whether a small business owner like Calo has to leave. The bill guarantees the right to a minimum ten-year lease renewal for all commercial tenants (with a few exceptions, such as if the tenant has broken the lease or violated tax or license laws). Crucially, if the tenant and landlord are not able to agree on terms, the bill would also send the dispute to an independent arbitrator, who would set a rent based on comparable prices in the area and the landlord’s and tenant’s finances, among other criteria.

With so many failures in the bill’s past and the powerful real estate lobby led by the Real Estate Board of New York (REBNY) dead set against it, Steven Barrison, a spokesperson for the Small Business Congress, has worried that it will again fail to even be put for a vote. Small Business Committee chair Mark Gjonaj has received significant donations from the real estate industry — $96,070, more than 10 percent of his total campaign contributions in 2017 — with new Council Speaker Corey Johnson right behind him at more than $63,000.

Reginald Johnson, Gjonaj’s chief of staff, told the Voice in a statement: “Councilman Gjonaj is committed to addressing the needs of New York business owners. He wholeheartedly supports the objective of reducing the cost of owning a business in New York and looks forward to reviewing and debating the bill in committee.” Corey Johnson also offered a statement, which read, in part, “I am committed to giving the Small Business Survival Act [sic] the hearing and full consideration that it has been denied for too long, so that it can be debated on its merits.” REBNY did not respond to a request for comment.

Jenny Dubnau of the Artist Studio Affordability Project, an SBJSA supporter, shares Barrison’s skepticism. “These quote-unquote ‘progressives,’ when it comes to what’s going on in our city, they’re not progressive when it comes to real estate policy. It’s shocking.”

Rodriguez, the latest councilmember to introduce the bill, says he’s committed to it, but says it’s just “one of many measures that I want to put in place to protect mom-and-pop stores,” including adding local-business requirements for developers who get public money.

As of this writing, no hearing on the bill has been scheduled.

***

In the past, the bill’s opponents have argued that its passage would harm landlords and disincentivize developers from investing in property, and therefore ultimately hurt small businesses. They’ve also argued that a bill like this is unprecedented, maybe even illegal.

Mary Ann Hallenborg, a clinical assistant professor of real estate at NYU’s School of Professional Studies, says there’s precedent in New York City for commercial rent control, dating back to a 1945 law that limited commercial rent increases, much as residential rent regulations still work today. Then, as now, small business owners complained of excessive rent hikes and evictions, and the state legislature stepped in to regulate the commercial rental market, though the law was repealed in 1963 once the rent emergency was deemed to have passed.

David Eisenbach, a Columbia historian and 2017 candidate for Public Advocate, believes that the bill, if passed, “will absolutely hold up” to court challenges. “LaGuardia passed commercial rent regulation back in the 1940s because he saw a very similar situation happen,” he says. “There were numerous court challenges, and each time, the courts in the state of New York said that New York City has the powers, under home rule, to address a crisis. And it was a crisis.”

Dubnau would like to see things go even further. She worries that the arbitration component in the bill may be too expensive for small business owners. And she believes “there should also be legislation that makes it illegal for landlords to simply warehouse space. There should be a tax penalty for that.” She’d even love to see a restoration of commercial rent control.

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Hallenborg isn’t so sure that limits on commercial rents are a solution. “I agree that it hurts when your favorite neighborhood restaurant closes its doors because the landlord has hiked the rent,” she says. “But the reality is, in the urban core, property taxes, insurance, and other operating costs have increased dramatically over the last thirty years. And rents have increased commensurately.” She worries that the current draft of the SBJSA defines tenants so broadly that it could cover “big law firms, big pharmaceutical companies, big financial services companies — and I’m sure that they will appreciate everything that the city is doing to keep them in a below-market lease.”

Moreover, she notes that unlike commercial rent control, the SBJSA does not feature mechanisms to assure landlords of a fair return on investment or address landlord hardships, and doesn’t include a sunset clause. Such clauses “would help protect” the proposed new law from legal challenges by landlords, she says; as the law is written, “we could expect many challenges to it on a variety of grounds,” including a failure to provide due process and whether it’s an illegal taking of private property.

For small business advocates, though, the issue is not just the specifics of a new law, but the fact that the city has gone thirty years without even holding a vote on a bill that has strong support both on the council and among small business owners. “I don’t know a neighborhood in New York City where the people aren’t upset and angry about these businesses closing,” says Barrison. “If the people knew that all they had to do was go to their lawmaker and hold their lawmaker responsible if they did not pass a law that stopped this, it would stop. The people just need to know.”

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Bars FOOD ARCHIVES NEWS & POLITICS ARCHIVES NYC ARCHIVES THE FRONT ARCHIVES

Chocolatto: Better than Hot Cocoa

There is a new warm chocolate confection making its way onto restaurant menus and grocery shelves across New York, and it’s worth tossing out the packages of thin and chalky hot cocoa to try it. It’s called Dolce Vite Chocolatto, and it was inspired by luxurious Italian hot chocolate.

A mix between your usual hot cocoa and a warmed chocolate pudding, Dolce Vite Chocolatto is heaven for any chocolate lover and a welcome change to the usual wintry drink roster. The drink also has an out-of-the-box marketing campaign, which includes a music video and a man dressed like a shirtless spoon to hand out samples in Brooklyn Bridge Park. We caught up with proprietor Christina Summers to learn more about the company.

I LIKE IT THICK! Chocolatto is Back! from Dolce Vite Forever Young on Vimeo.

What is Chocolatto, and how is it different from other hot chocolates on the market?
Chocolatto is not traditional hot chocolate. First, Chocolatto is thick and eaten with a spoon. First-time tasters compare it to a hot mousse or pudding. Second, Chocolatto is a low-calorie chocolate dessert — it’s made with low fat cocoa. Third, there are no GMOs, preservatives or artificial colors or flavors, and, finally, it can be made vegan with soy milk, nut milk, or water.

Why are you passionate about Chocolatto?
I was in Sicily the first time I tasted Italian-style hot chocolate, and it was love at first spoon. There was no going back to regular hot chocolate. Italians are famous for their foods because of the quality and taste. Italians live to eat rather than eat to live. It’s fantastic that the U.S. food movement is beginning to go in that direction, with a focus on quality rather than quantity.

Also, health is a big concern of mine and the health benefits of hot chocolate are a hot topic, no pun intended. Some studies show that more antioxidants are released when chocolate is heated, and that hot chocolate has more antioxidants than red wine, green tea, or black tea.

What is the history of this thicker form of hot cocoa?
This is the original style of chocolate enjoyed in the European royal courts — in a dense liquid form. This molten liquid chocolate was wildly popular because it was perceived as an aphrodisiac, and [it was] also medicinal. Also, cacao was very expensive and therefore exclusive to the royal class. Fast forward to 2013 and many Americans have not tried this thick, dense style of hot chocolate.

I know Chocolatto is available at restaurants, but can you make Chocolatto at home without a frother?
Absolutely! Chocolatto can be made on the stovetop with continuous stirring till boiling. It’s perfect for a dinner party, special home dinner date, or treat for the kids. We also have fantastic Chocolatto recipes such as Chocolatto Orange, a delicious combination of dark chocolate with fresh orange juice and zest, prepared by Sexy Spoon Man.

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Bars FOOD ARCHIVES NYC ARCHIVES

From Wall Street to Gin Distiller: Greenhook Ginsmiths (VIDEO)

Steven DeAngelo followed a typical path: He went to a good school, became a capital markets broker, and returned to his hometown of New York. But when the recession hit in 2008, Steven decided to reevaluate his career. He wrote out two business plans, and years later, even he is surprised at where he ended up: as a gin distiller in Greenpoint, Brooklyn.

Steven still dresses like he’s preparing for a day on Wall Street, almost always donning a button down and slacks. And he approaches his business as a salesman, calling and visiting vendors around the city daily. But the product he’s making isn’t a simple, regimented recipe. Steven has re-thought the aromatic process of distilling gin, fusing methods created by French perfumeries in the 1700s with his stills in Brooklyn today to create a vacuum distilled spirit.

While the process sounds complicated, vacuum distillation is important in this context for one simple reason: It protects the delicate ingredients. If you know anything about gin, you know it’s all about the juniper and other botanicals — which are susceptible to damage. Through vacuum distillation, Steven is able to reduce the air pressure in the chamber so the alcohol distills at a lower temperature, which protects the flowers and spices that are being infused into the raw spirit. The result is a highly aromatic, easy-drinking gin.

DeAngelo also released one of the area’s only beach plum gins, an interpretation of the British classic, sloe gin. Learn more about the beach plum gin and Steven in the video below, and don’t miss the recipe for a beach plum Pimm’s cup from Alder’s Kevin Denton on the next page. Greenhook Ginsmiths will also pour at our inaugural Holiday Spirits event, tickets for which are on sale now.

Plum and Plummer
from Alder
by Kevin Denton

Serves 1

1 oz lovage-aquavit*
1.5 oz Pimm’s
1.5 oz Greenhook Ginsmith’s Beach Plum Gin
0.75 lime juice
Soda

In a shaker with ice, combine 1 oz lovage-aquavit, 1.5 oz Pimm’s, 1.5 oz Beach Plum Gin, and 0.75 oz lime juice. Shake and strain into a glass with ice. Top with soda and enjoy.

*In a blender, combine a small, fist-sized bunch of lovage with one bottle of aquavit. Strain through a coffee filter or fine-mesh strainer.

Tip: If you have the time, blend the lovage and aquavit up to one day in advance. Let settle and strain again before mixing in the cocktail.

If you want to make this a day ahead for a group (serves about 8), simply increase the measurements:

1 cup lovage-aquavit
1.5 cups Pimm’s
1.5 cups Greenhook Ginsmith’s Beach Plum Gin
3/4 cup lime juice
Soda

Video Produced and Edited by Erik Spink & Amitabha Joshi.

Music by The Midnight Snackers and Every Flavor Weather Machine.

Special thanks to Kevin Denton and Alder restaurant.

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Bars FOOD ARCHIVES NYC ARCHIVES

Behind the Sticky and Sweet Syrups of P&H Soda Co. (VIDEO)

The American soda fountain met its heyday in the 1940s, with customers clamoring for fizzy drinks mixed with ice cream or sweet syrups. Today, Anton Nocito of P&H Soda Co. is reviving the retro craft with an artisanal take. In the back of a food shop in the eastern district of Greenpoint, Nocito is melting, measuring, scraping, juicing, and stirring inventive syrups for use in sodas or cocktails, at home or in bars, all by hand. All by him.

The inventive flavors and use of all-natural ingredients shows off Nocito’s culinary skills. He began his career as a butcher in the Navy, passed over for the job of a mechanic. But the position was a perfect match. Now after a long working life in the food industry, and with halcyon memories of the soda shops he used to visit as a kid, he’s reinventing the wheel of soft drinks and syrup mixers.

Check out Nocito at work, and hear more of his story in the video below. And don’t miss the cocktail recipe from Bobo using Nocito’s Sarsaparilla syrup.

Sarsaparilla Soda Cocktail
by Michael Cecchi-Azzolina at Bobo Restaurant

1.5 oz Old Overholt
0.75 oz Sarsaparilla syrup
0.5 oz Lemon
Soda

Stir together Old Overholt, syrup and lemon over ice. Shake and strain into a highball glass. Top with soda and serve.

Produced and Edited by Erik Spink & Amitabh Joshi.

Music by The Midnight Snackers and Bars of Gold.

Special thanks to Michael Cecchi-Azzolina and Bobo Restaurant.

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Bars FOOD ARCHIVES NYC ARCHIVES

The Spicy Spirit of Red Hook: Jack from Brooklyn’s Sorel (VIDEO)

“If mom’s apple pie and dad’s liquor cabinet got together and got busy, and you put it in a bottle, you get Sorel.” So says Jack Summers, the proprietor of Jack from Brooklyn, a one-man startup on the shores of Red Hook that has one specialty: sorel, a hibiscus liqueur.

In 2012, Summers decided to take the drink of his childhood, spruce it up, and put it on the market. “If you go to the Caribbean, you’ll see kids picking hibiscus on the way home, then they make it into tea,” he says, referencing his own Caribbean heritage. “Once the kids go to bed, the parents add alcohol to it. It’s a tradition that has taken place in homes for generations. I’m just the first to bottle it.”

The deep pink liqueur is smooth and very easy to drink, with a reasonable alcohol content of 15 percent. And its unique flavor spectrum–with hints of nutmeg, ginger, cinnamon, and, of course, hibiscus–offers itself to many renditions of preparation: hot, cold, in cocktails, even poured on top a snow cone.

But the journey to creating the spicy spirit was not without its troubles. Like most of Red Hook, Jack’s store and production space drowned under six feet of water in the wake of Super Storm Sandy nearly one year ago, just when the business was getting under way. Today, the recovery is still taking place–for Jack from Brooklyn as well as the rest of Red Hook. This week our episode is celebrating the vibrant recovery and work that has occurred since October 2012 and the fantastic product steeped and blended by Jack Summers. Be sure to watch the video below, and then get yourself a taste of sorel.

Music in this video is by The Midnight Snackers and PitchBlak Brass.

Thanks to Tabha.com.

#InTheSpirit

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NEWS & POLITICS ARCHIVES THE FRONT ARCHIVES

Hispanic Business Community Fuming Over Christine Quinn’s Support of New Bill

City Council Speaker Christine Quinn’s support of a revised law aimed at helping women and minority-owned businesses secure contracts with city agencies could cost her Hispanic votes in the upcoming 2013 mayoral election.

“[Christine] Quinn is going to lose the Hispanic vote because we’re going to make sure of that,” Frank Garcia, chairman of the New York State Coalition of Hispanic Chambers of Commerce, tells the Voice. “We don’t feel that [she] takes the Hispanic vote very seriously right now.”

Garcia and other Hispanic business leaders are upset over proposed revisions to the 2005 Local Law 129. The City Council Committee on Contracts held a hearing on the revisions yesterday — at which Deputy Mayor of Operations Cas Halloway announced that the city’s current goal to contract with Hispanic-owned construction companies would decrease from 9.06 percent to 4 percent under the new bill.

]

The law, which established the Minority and Women-owned Business
Enterprise, sets contracting goals for African-American, Asian-American,
Hispanic-American and Caucasian female business owners in the areas of
construction, goods, professional and standardized services. The M/WBE
program was established to address disparities in the number of women
and minorities contracted to do work for city agencies, but it has
failed to achieve that goal.

The newly revised percentage goals are based on the number of firms
certified to contract with city agencies and the number of those
certified agencies which are actually selected to do work.

Garcia says a number of Latino business owners were discouraged by
the certification process. That’s because they were the only minority
group required to prove their heritage, by way of affidavit, in order to
make their businesses eligible for contracting.

Although African-Americans and Hispanic-Americans saw increases in
other areas of contracting, they were confused as to why their
projections went down in construction, while the goal for Caucasian
women increased so dramatically.

“They’re doing more business than all of us right now, without [the]
percentages. If you look at the numbers of white women, right now
they’re doing more business than us,” Garcia says.

Caucasian women had no goals in construction under the guidelines of
this program in 2005, now they have an 18 percent procurement goal.
Garcia believes the administration and Quinn gave them a higher
percentage because of lobbying and moneyed interests. He says that he
will only steer his constituents towards mayoral hopefuls who wlll fight
in the interest of the Hispanic community.

“Are they going to defend us on this, or are they going to sellout
like Christie Quinn did?” Garcia says. “We feel that the mayor, on this
issue and other issues of small business, has not been fair [to] our
community, [to] the Latino community.”

During the hearing, Councilwoman Inez Dickens brought up the issue of
fraud and whether some contracts, intended for women, might actually go
to white-male business-owners instead.

“I come from a small business background, and I can think of any
number of businesses that are Caucasian-owned, by men, and they put
their wives, their girlfriends, their daughter, whatever, up as the
owners, and so maybe you should consider a time-frame where there’s been
a change in ownership, principal ownership,” Dickens told Calloway.

With all that said, the debate over percentages may not really mean much ultimately.

“They’re really not goals, it’s just aspirational. We are also under
the jurisdiction or mandate by state law to always go with the lowest
responsible bidder,” Councilwoman Letitia James said. “So, though we
create aspirational goals, the fact is that if it’s the lowest
responsible bidder, and that lowest responsible bidder happens not to be
a member of a minority group, then that contract will go to that
individual.”

James was referring to a state law that mandates that government
contracts be awarded on the basis of whoever has the best and lowest
bid, regardless of race.

Another reason why these goals may just be “aspirational” is that
there’s no real penalty for city agencies and contractors who fail to
meet percentage goals.

In 2011, city agencies met less than half of the programs goals.
M/WBEs made roughly $73 million of the targeted $153 million total sum
in contract earnings. In 2010, they made only about $70 million of the
nearly $313 million goal.

“If they’re not making a good-faith effort and demonstrating how or
why they’re not meeting goals, they’re going to have to explain
themselves,” Halloway said. “That’s going to factor into whether they
are in fact a contractor the city wants to do business with.”

Under revised accountability plans for the law, agencies and
contractors would have to meet on a quarterly basis to justify their
numbers — in a program modeled to emulate the NYPD’s CompStat program.
Despite several other useful revisions to its accountability system, the
fact remains that the contractors will not face fines or sanctions if
they fail to meet goals under this legislation.

Garcia says he and his coalition plans to bite back at the city.

“I’m in process of suing the city of New York because of the soda
bill with other advocates. The lawsuit hits next week. And, the reason
why we decided to be part of the lawsuit is our presidents are angry —
saying ‘okay if the mayor is going to hit us on percentages on
Hispanics, we’re going to hit him on the soda bill because this does
affect the small restaurants in our membership,” Garcia says.

They’re planning a press conference Wednesday at City Hall to further voice their displeasure.