MeMe’s Diner — the Prospect Heights restaurant known as much for its LGBTQ-focused, inclusive approach to hospitality as for its eclectic take on comfort food — is closing following a three-year run in the neighborhood. Owners Libby Willis and Bill Clark made the announcement on MeMe’s Instagram page, writing, “with heavy hearts, like so many other small businesses, we made the tough decision to close our doors for good.” The restaurant will serve its last meal on November 22.
Like scores of other restaurants in the city, MeMe’s Diner temporarily closed in March following the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in NYC and the shutdown measures that followed. The restaurant opened for limited weekend takeout meals in May, and gradually added outdoor seating as the city opened up streets and sidewalks for outdoor dining.
Still, that apparently wasn’t enough to keep the restaurant afloat. MeMe’s continues to operate on a weekend-only schedule (including Friday), and with indoor dining not likely return at full — or even 50 percent capacity — anytime soon due to the recent uptick in novel coronavirus cases, restaurants have been contending with closures, especially as NYC heads toward colder weather.
With uncertainty around when more coronavirus-related federal aid will come through, restaurants are continuing to contend with fixed costs like rent. A recent NYC Hospitality Alliance survey of more than 400 restaurants and bars in the city revealed that nearly 90 percent of establishments had once again been unable to pay full rent. Even with the combination of outdoor dining and 25-percent-capacity indoor dining, restaurants continue to struggle; hospitality industry experts predict many more closures will follow without government aid.
Willis and Clark alluded to the crisis for small businesses during the pandemic in their Instagram post, but did not go into more details about the closure. The duo pledged to keep pushing forward with their inclusive approach to hospitality, writing that “whatever comes next, we will continue to work with our community towards a hospitality industry that’s more sustainable and equitable.” Eater has reached out for more details.
The duo’s Instagram post was met with an outpouring of remembrances from NYC’s food world. Eric See, the chef and owner of Crown Heights New Mexican restaurant Ursula, wrote “thank you for being the new pioneers of queer food in Brooklyn”; Jarry magazine editor Lukas Volger thanked MeMe’s for its “generosity and all that you gave to so many of our little communities,” and New Yorker staff writer Helen Rosner thanked the restaurant “for making our neighborhood feel like home.” On Twitter, diners were sharing some of their favorite memories from the restaurant.
The beloved Prospect Heights restaurant was known as a hot spot for brunch hangs and cozy, nostalgic dinners. Meals started with a free bowl of cheese puffs or mixed sugar cereals — Fruit Loops, Cinnamon Toast Crunch — for the table, depending on the time of day. The menu was stacked with popular diner items, like a cheesy, saucy patty melt served with a pile of crispy potatoes and mac and cheese crusted with potato chips and drizzled with hot sauce. The baked goods were just as in demand, from the duo’s everything-bagel babka to a rotating selection of inventive cakes, such as a recent concoction of devil’s food cake stuffed with orange chocolate ganache.
Equally praised was Willis and Clark’s inclusive leadership approach, which they set as the top priority for staff and customers alike. Employees were trained to use gender-neutral language at all times, for example, and not to second-guess names listed on credit cards if they appeared not to line up with assumptions of a person’s gender presentation.
Eater critic Ryan Sutton applauded the restaurant’s “freewheeling approach to comfort fare” in an early review, calling it “stunning” on all fronts and naming it home to one of the best brunches in the city.
MeMe’s will close out with two final weekends of meals, according to its Instagram post. The restaurant will be open November 13 through 15, and November 20 through 22, from noon to 9 p.m., serving favorites like the meatloaf, Buffalo chicken salad, and yellow cake.