Kosher restaurants close on the UWS

Out with a Big Bang: Photo courtesy of Jane Potter
City regulations and religious oversight add to the difficulties of doing business
by jason cohen

December was a bad month for kosher restaurants on the Upper West Side. Coffeeberry, Chocolate Works, Seasons and Big Bang Burger all shuttered their doors.

Big Bang Burger opened a year ago at 426 Amsterdam Ave., between 80th and 81st Streets, and closed Dec. 24. The burger joint was started by Dr. Gabriel Feldman and Jane Potter, who wanted to combine their love for science with food, spawning the name of the restaurant from the television show “The Big Bang Theory.”

Feldman told the West Side Spirit that they tried to keep the place afloat, but nothing ever worked. Whether it was the loopholes they had to jump through with the Department of Buildings, kosher oversight, an unprofessional restaurant consultant or rent of $13,500, it was simply too much.

“I think our restaurant consultant mislead us,” Feldman said. “We didn’t have any success. The difficulties of having a place on the UWS is insurmountable.”

Prior to Big Bang Burger, Feldman had a small frozen yogurt place in the Bronx, but it didn’t pan out. However, knowing there is a large Jewish population on the UWS, he thought a kosher place would work.

At first, the place was just dairy and called Bazinga Café. However, Feldman saw that wasn’t working, so he and Potter quickly changed to burgers. The goal was to make a fun place with good food for the community, but they soon discovered owning a kosher restaurant in the Upper West Side was almost impossible.

“[The city] absolutely could care less, whether it’s architecture or a grease trap,” he said. “It’s all [so] complex that you need a navigator just to hold on.”

They learned that even though Mayor Bill de Blasio claims to be pro-small business, it’s the landlords that really run the city.

“The landlords are charging twice what [rent] should be,” Feldman said. “We’ve become a society of landlords on the Upper West Side. The rents are so high that all you can do is serve liquor or high-end desserts.”

Feldman feels opening a restaurant in the Upper West Side is not place for beginners. Furthermore, owning a kosher place requires constant oversight from mashgiachs, or kosher food supervisors, which can be a costly hassle.

“There’s really no future for Glatt kosher places on the UWS,” Feldman said. “It’s really a place for super-experienced, super-wealthy people that want to open up.”

Coffeeberry, which opened in 2015, was located at 618 Amsterdam Avenue, on the corner of 90th and Amsterdam. It originally closed in mid-November for renovations, but in early December officially shut its doors.

Seasons, the kosher grocery store chain, which filed for bankruptcy in September, closed its Upper West Side location at 661 Amsterdam Ave. on Dec. 28. Seasons began in 2010 in Flushing and eventually expanded to seven locations; two on Long Island, two in New Jersey, one in Baltimore, one in Scarsdale and their UWS store.

After seven years on the UWS at 641 Amsterdam Avenue, between 91st and 92nd Streets, Chocolate Works closed on New Year’s Eve. Manager Natalie Serussi said their rent doubled and it was not affordable to remain open.