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KIT, a Queer Business Incubator From a MeMe’s Diner Owner, Shuts Down

Owner Libby Willis closed her home for some of the city’s most exciting pop-ups last month

A person stands behind the counter pointing at a back shelf of wines while a customer on the other side of the counter makes a selection.
Libby Willis inside of KIT in Prospect Heights.
Clay Williams/Eater NY

When MeMe’s Diner, Libby Willis and Bill Clark’s queer diner, announced its closure in fall 2020, fans of the Prospect Heights restaurant mourned the loss. By the following summer, Willis took over the former MeMe’s space and relaunched it as KIT, an acronym for Keep in Touch, an incubator for pop-ups that aimed to keep some of the MeMe’s spirit alive with an eye for queer-owned businesses. Now, less than a year later, Willis has confirmed to Eater that KIT permanently shut down last month.

In a statement sent via text message, Willis attributed the closure to financial and personal challenges stemming from the pandemic: “I really wanted to try something new and different with KIT. I wanted to try to find a way to make a living in the food industry and under capitalism. But, with a very small team and even smaller resources it was really difficult.” She added that KIT did not receive the Restaurant Revitalization Funds she had hoped.

In its tenure at 657 Washington Ave, near Saint Marks Avenue, KIT gave a platform to several small businesses including Black Cat Wines and boozy jelly cake company Solid Wiggles, in addition to grab-and-go pantry items. Willis, who oversaw some of the desserts and pastries at MeMe’s, also sold daily baked goods customers could purchase with coffee orders.

The Instagram bio for Black Cat Wines states that a new bottle shop is “coming soon,” while Solid Wiggles appears to now be operating out of the Pfizer building, and has started to supply slices of jelly cakes to nearby queer-owned bar Oddly Enough. KIT has not yet publicly announced the closure on Instagram; it’s latest post was for a pop-up held in early April.

In addition to Black Cat Wines and Solid Wiggles, KIT also was a home to several short-term residencies, from pop-ups like the Vietnamese cooking of Ha’s Đặc Biệt, Korean-leaning lunch boxes from Doshi, and Eastern European banya brunches from Dacha 46. KIT also served as a space for several chefs piloting recipes before launching their own brick-and-mortars, such as Agi’s Counter and the forthcoming fine ding spot HAGS.

Willis envisioned the incubator-style operation as a more equitable model — where owners split the rent, and everyone works in the cafe to sell each other’s food — for a notoriously brutal industry, especially during COVID-19.

Ahead of last year’s opening, Willis told Eater that she had hoped KIT would retain some of the same queer hospitality that the original MeMe’s Diner space had come to be known for. “This is not a pivot, but it is a direct response to the fragility of the restaurant industry,” Willis said. “To me, opening another restaurant that was just my own felt like status quo. I wanted to try to create something that felt sustainable for small businesses.”

Willis did not indicate what her next steps would be.