By Julia Moskin
June 23, 2014
It is one of the hard truths of New York real estate: Restaurants help revitalize neighborhoods, then are forced to close when their rents skyrocket.
The latest casualty is Union Square Cafe, a pioneering restaurant that became the mother ship of the fleet run by the entrepreneur Danny Meyer. It will forfeit its lease at the end of next year, close its doors and move to a location to be determined. The East 16th Street space it has occupied for nearly 30 years will go on the market this week, brokers said.
Manhattan restaurateurs often lament that they face impossible odds in a real estate climate that increasingly puts them in competition for space with international retail chains, banks, pharmacies and other deep-pocketed businesses. If Mr. Meyer, a mogul with acclaimed and successful restaurants all over the world, can be compelled to close Union Square Cafe, they ask, what hope is there for the rest of them?
“There’s no such thing as a New York restaurant that is immune to real estate,” Mr. Meyer said in an interview.
Just as farmers are always complaining about the weather, restaurateurs complain about the rent. But with a recent spate of closings and a continuing rise in rents in downtown Manhattan, where bargains could once be had, even well-established restaurateurs are in a state of agitation.
WD-50, an international destination on the Lower East Side led by the chef Wylie Dufresne, announced two weeks ago that it would have to close and relocate because its 50 Clinton Street quarters will be razed to make way for an apartment building. Hearth, one of the first restaurants to bring artisanal cooking to the East Village, was just hit with a 65 percent rent increase, and the chef and owner, Marco Canora, said his entire business model may have to change.
“I’m trying to be a smart businessman,” Mr. Canora said. “But I can’t do that at the cost of turning my back on my entire belief system and serving commodity pork and Perdue chicken.”