Owner, Salam Al-Rawi from an interview by Hannah Reimann

Moustache Restaurant’s 34-year Legacy in NYC

Continues with a New Opening on 7th Avenue South in April 2023


Moustache originally opened on 405 Atlantic Avenue between Nevins and Bond Streets in Brooklyn in 1989. The original idea I had was to replicate the concept of a Lebanese furn which is a bakery that makes dough and customers bring their own toppings—for a nominal fee the baker puts your homemade toppings on the raw dough and then he bakes it for you.

I only wanted to use the pizza oven, but this didn’t last very long because people kept walking in asking for falafel. The menu developed into new dimensions. One Sunday, I was hit with two reviews, one by the New York Times and one by the New York Daily News. After that, we couldn’t make enough food. I didn’t intend for this concept to become my career, then I felt forced to make it my career because I saw the profit coming from it, especially from those two reviews. These were print reviews before the internet—everyone read them.

I spoke with Salam Al-Rawi, the mustached owner of The Village’s beloved eatery, in late March about the plans for his new location, the colorful history of Moustache and its great popularity, The paintings have already been moved to 7th Avenue South and fans including model Bella Hadid continue to come for lunch and dinner every day on Bedford Street. I notice that everyone is always happy at Moustache and I am, too. Photo credit: Hannah Reimann

It was due to two things—the financial rewards and the roughness of the area—that helped me make the decision to move to Manhattan. We got broken into over a dozen times on Atlantic Avenue. The neighbors would be calling me, calling the police. Once a thief loaded up a hand-truck with soda cases and came up the stairs only to meet the police! Since I couldn’t identify him, he was arrested. Once time a guy showed up with a big bowie knife—there were too many people there after his initial threat so he left.

I wanted to be here in the West Village because I worked previously on West 4th Street, waiting tables and bartending at La Chaumière and then at Chez Ma Tente on West 10th Street between West 4th and Bleecker (neither are in the Village today). I loved the neighborhood and I wanted to be in this area. It reminds me of Paris where I lived for six years as a college student at Tours.

I walked by Bedford Street and wanted this space for my restaurant. Not many people want to risk a business on a side street, but I did. There was a barber shop in this space before we occupied it. There was no basement. I negotiated my terms—I wanted the basement space for one year free, and a lease of $900 per month. I started construction and I built everything with my own hands. I had to sell the space in Brooklyn before I opened in Manhattan to afford to work on it. It was an immediate success with the neighbors and we continued to get good reviews.

In the early 1990s people used to break in to Moustache, again, and when they couldn’t break open the cash register they would smash it on the floor to get whatever was inside. There was never any money in the register and we had to keep buying new cash registers. One day we started the habit of leaving $60 in the cash register and to leave the cash register unlocked. So the thieves would take the $60 and we wouldn’t have to buy a new cash register. After a while they stopped breaking in completely.

Over 32 years, the neighborhood lost its original population from the 60s 70s and 80s. The population was replaced by the rich and famous. I’m not saying this negatively, but this is the way it happened. When the rich and famous come to purchase real estate, as we all know, they don’t buy a one-bedroom apartment, they buy an entire building. That reduced the population of the Village.

Everyone else agrees that they like the new space more than the new one even though I personally disagree. I cannot avoid having a sentimental attachment to this space on Bedford Street—it’s a lifetime, However, business is business, this is New York City, it’s a cutthroat place. You have to manage, deal, move on and do your best. This is what I’m doing. I worked very, very hard to build the new place for the past nine months. I built it myself with my own hands from sheet rock to electrical work to everything. I have one person working with me. The last thing that’s holding us back is the turning on of the gas, something contingent on a final building department inspection. The architect fixed the last glitch to clear the path to have our inspection date. When we get our Blue Card, we can get the green light from Con Edison to turn the gas on.

It’s going to be a night move, like the owls. We’re waiting for the gas to be turned on and when it is, after the last day on Bedford Street we’ll carry the tables and everything else we need over to open on Seventh Avenue South the next day for lunch. We won’t close for a day.

The food will be the same, but perhaps in mid-summer I’ll open for brunch with a new brunch menu. There are flowers planted in the outdoor seating area. And there will be a smile when you come to Moustache. Always keep a smile.

Moustache Pitza

90 Bedford Street

On or around April 1-4: 29 Seventh Ave South near Bedford

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