By George Capsis
The evening of May 24th, I met the Peruvian-born, and very young (age 28) and handsome (he is an underwear model, artist, and former student at Le Cordon Bleu), owner of the week-old Baby Brasa—Franco Noriega. The restaurant is located at 173 7th Avenue South, near Greenwich Avenue—its 100-plus seats were nearly all filled when I visited. Franco was positive and smiling as he spoke about the start of his “chain” of organic chicken restaurants (they only serve chicken).
Yes, it is natural for us to be skeptical when a young person, after opening just two restaurants, talks about a “chain” (the first one, also very recent, is at 129 Allen Street, between Rivington and Delancey Streets) but there was nothing boasting or posturing in Franco’s demeanor. He was just calmly reading the first pages of his future, already written in large clear letters—it was beyond confidence.
As I gazed at his relaxed face, I thought of the hard, tight, grim countenances of those restaurant owners who have lost everything and more till, at last, they put the padlock on the door. Why do some restaurants succeed from the day they open and others die a not-too-slow, but very expensive, death?
There is no question that we have an epidemic of closings, so many that Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer got volunteers to count the number of ‘To Let’ signs on Broadway. She wanted to make a case for some kind of civic action, if not a law, that would prevent businesses from, essentially, going out of business shortly after signing a new lease.
But you can’t cure a problem unless you understand exactly how it works. To say that this City has inflation is certainly true and to say that it is accelerating is also true. You have only to look at the ‘LUNCH SPECIAL’ signs that quickly went from $5.95 to $9.95 and now $14.95, in the last 24 months. I called back a waitress when I discovered that a $1.00 bottle of beer at Trader Joe’s was $9.50 on my credit card receipt for the restaurant I visited.
I am waiting to see who moves into the Rudin/St. Vincent’s Condo. What will they look like, those people who can write out checks for $12 million? And, why oh why do they want to live on 7th Avenue with all the traffic facing that strange big, white, toothy building? Just to say, “We bought in the Village?” But it is not the Village of just a few years ago and certainly not the Village of 70 years ago, when a glass of porter at the White Horse Tavern was 50 cents. (Owner Ernie used to talk about his flights on the Hindenburg.)
Inflation is a natural phenomenon, if you can call something mathematical natural. In the depths of the recession, the government tried to stimulate inflation (no kidding) but they just wanted a gradual inflation, not $9.50 for a lousy bottle of beer.
I don’t have any answers as to how we can save whatever we think of as the “Old Village.” Of course, you can never save the past, but in the face of young Franco, I see the future.