Williamsburg cocktail bar Donna closed in December 2020 after nearly a decade in business. Now, the team tells Eater that the bar will return, only this time in Manhattan’s West Village, at 7 Cornelia Street, near Sixth Avenue. It’s on track to open in March 2023.
The new spot accommodates around 50 customers, fewer than the original location, but the kitchen in the West Village is bigger, which will allow the staff to prepare more substantial entrees. The new menu will be more pan-Latin American, though they’ll still make tacos. Among drinks, expect a new cocktail menu as well as Brancolada, Paloma, and Happy Bastard from the original bar.
When Donna 2.0 is resurrected, it will be a different model than what was in Williamsburg: Leif Huckman says that he has transferred his ownership so that the new iteration will be entirely worker-owned. It’s a less common model in New York City, though one that is gaining steam across the country in pace with unionization efforts. He will stay on to consult, but the cocktail bar now lies in the hands of five employees from the Williamsburg Donna: Ulises Fuentes, Elissa May, K.C. Frank, Lauren Ruiz, and Luke Evans.
Huckman was interested in the worker-owner setup because he believes it is an alternative that helps “everyone participate in the equity of the business” and creates less of a hostile relationship between workers and management. He explored the idea of going gratuity-free, as tipping, he says, “enhances our biases” and “can be a really fraught space” with little recourse for workers. But, ultimately, he felt that with bigwigs like Danny Meyer unable to “defeat the institution of gratuity,” cooperatives could provide a better pathway to benefits. (The organization The Working World aided in the transition of power).
As for jumping across the water to Manhattan, Huckman said that after he lost his lease on Broadway, he looked elsewhere in Brooklyn. Overall, though, he found that many landlords were nervous to work with a worker-owned space: “It freaked them out, and no one really understood it,” said Huckman.
Lauren Ruiz, formerly a service bartender at Donna, who joined the team just a few weeks prior to the pandemic, is now one of the worker-owners at the new iteration. “Donna was uniquely positioned for this since we already had a participatory environment,” says Ruiz, who adds that each of the new owners has around 20 percent stake in the business.
Working in hospitality for about two decades on and off, she felt the industry was unsustainable and found Huckman’s offer exciting. Without health insurance, or paid time off, “it becomes a grind, with a lot of burnout, but with the cooperative model you have more integrity for your job,” she says. She hopes more bars follow suit.
When Donna opens next spring, the bar will operate with a mix of seats bookable on Resy, with space for walk-ins.