Just over a year ago New York City shut down. All non-essential businesses were required to close, and restaurants were limited to take-out and delivery. Given how difficult the last year has been for most businesses, it is not surprising that many restaurants and shops have shuttered permanently. One theme we’ve heard over and over is that landlords were not willing to work with businesses, further exacerbating the situation. Recently we spoke with Luis Arce Mota, the chef/owner of La Contenta Oeste, who had a very different story. He told us how his landlord has been great, and was willing to work with them to help keep the business going.
La Contenta Oeste (78 West 11th at 6th Avenue) opened in 2017. French Roast had been in that location for years, but when the owner, Simon Oren decided to close it, he thought of Luis who had worked at French Roast in the 90’s. Luis came to the US from Mexico. He met his wife when she was on vacation there in 1990, and after they became engaged and he received his visa, he arrived here and started working in the food industry. His first job was at Carmine’s in Times Square. He helped with the opening in 1992. He worked as a dishwasher for the first two weeks, and then moved on to food prep. In 1993 he started working at French Roast as a garde-manger, the chef in charge of cold food. He has fond memories of French Roast in the 90’s: it was a place with regulars, and the regulars were a mix of Village denizens and celebrities (some of whom also lived in the Village). A partial list includes: Mel Brooks, Mo Rocca, Uma Thurman and Sean Lennon. Luis particularly remembers visit by David Bowie. Eventually Luis moved on from there to a number of other spots (Coffee Shop in Union Square, Windows on the World, Jefferson on West 10th Street, Café Condesa and Ofrenda), often working two jobs at a time, until finally, in 2015, he opened his own spot, La Contenta on the Lower East Side.
Once Luis decided to take over the French Roast location, it took him two months to get La Contenta Oeste up and running. He has worked hard to tailor the restaurant to serve the neighborhood. He has volunteered at PS 41, doing guacamole demonstrations for three years (pre-pandemic). On Nextdoor, one poster wrote of Luis and the restaurant: “You and your staff make our neighborhood so proud and feel like home. You’re always so generous and supportive to our public schools. Your and your staff always keep a neighborhood watch for us and our streets are always cleaner and safer when you’re open.”
Once outdoor dining started, Luis added the job of carpenter to his resume. Three different structures now surround the restaurant. Luis has named them El Camión (in the street on 11th), Los Cubitos (along the building on 11th), and Las Casitas (on 6th Avenue).
The restaurant still faces challenges: they are doing about 45% of the business they used to. But because of their understanding landlord and the help of their building manager they have been able to continue operating and employing their staff, and they recently signed a lease through December. Hopefully things will continue to improve and La Contenta will remain a neighborhood fixture for a long time.
Chaz Dean Studio NYC
59 Greenwich Avenue between 7th Avenue South and West 11th Street
Chaz Dean is a Los Angeles stylist who boasts of a celebrity clientele there. The original opening was scheduled for mid to late 2019. Chaz Dean is also the creator of WEN®, a hair and self-bronzing product line that is sold online, at his salons, and on QVC. He believes that shampoo is harmful to hair, so he instead promotes a cleansing conditioner that is sodium laurel sulfate-free. The salon occupies the space that used to house Canine Styles Downtown, a store which sold fancy accoutrements for dogs and had groomers on-site. The storefront had been empty for at least six years.
We were delighted to see that popular Irish pub Hudson Hound (575 Hudson Street between West 11th and Bank Streets) re-opened, fittingly, on St. Patrick’s Day. For a while, its future was uncertain: it had closed in March 2020, reopened in October, then closed in the winter once indoor dining was banned again. In the February 2021 issue of WestView News, Maggie Berkvist, in her “Working to Save West Village Restaurants” reported on her discussion with Hudson Hound owner Lou Rudy. At the time he said: “Basically, at Hudson Hound, West Village, we are just hanging on. Our landlord has been amazing about working with us but unless there is financial support from the government we will have to make some hard decisions. We cannot survive on 25 percent occupancy and no outside seating. We are going to stay closed for a bit and see what is happening in the spring.” Clay Pot NYC (270 Bleecker Street at Morton Street), which serves Bao Zai Fan, a Hong-Kong style rice dish cooked in a clay pot has re-opened after a winter hibernation. The original East Village location is still closed. The IFC Center (323 6th Avenue at West 3rd Street) has re-opened.
Lingua Franca, a store that sold sustainably-sourced, fair trade luxury cashmere sweaters, hand-stitched by women in NYC, has closed. In June 2019, the window display housed the “Tiny Pricks Project,” a series of needlepoint pieces created by contributors from around the world where tweets and quotes from former President Trump were showcased. A reader noticed a sign on the window of 27 Morton (27½ Morton Street at 7th Avenue South) which read “Dear friends and patrons, after two happy years we will be permanently closing our doors at our current location at 11PM on March 27th. Follow us on Instagram to stay up to date with our next location.” 27 Morton replaced Doma Na Rohu, and offered some of the same Central and Eastern European dishes. Another reader writes: “Sad to see that The Upper Rust antique shop at 143 Seventh Avenue South (between 10th and Charles Streets) has closed. Last day was Feb. 21. They’re updating their website for online shopping: www.theupperrust.com”
Murray’s Mac and Cheese (264 Bleecker Street between Cornelia and Morton Streets), which was located in the old Murray’s Cheese Bar space, has relocated to the original location of Murray’s Mac & Cheese (250 Bleecker Street at Leroy Street). The Junzi Kitchen location at 190 Sullivan Street (at Bleecker Street) morphed into Nice Day Chinese Takeout last November. Now, the Junzi folks have decided to do the same thing at the Columbia University/Morningside Heights Junzi Kitchen. In addition, they also started a “Love Our Food Love Our People” campaign on social media to encourage everyone to join the fight against racism and violence towards the AAPI community.
We heard from a number of you this month, and we really appreciate your help. Please keep the emails coming. You can reach us at email@example.com