The first months of the year are notoriously hard on restaurants. People cut back on spending, or stay indoors because of the cold. Restaurant closures are expected during this period, but the number this year was higher than normal.
“People are acting like bears,” says Michael Petrovitch, behind the Puerto Rican food stall Que Chevere. “They’re hibernating.” Between the last week of December and the first week of January, Eater confirmed over 40 restaurant and bar closures. The oldest, a deli in Bayside, was open for 92 years. The newest, a hot dog shop on St. Marks Place, lasted two months.
The latest round of closures shows what it takes to run a “successful” restaurant in New York City right now. It relies on investor capital, or extended work days, the right address, and maybe a deal on rent. While several businesses had come to the end of their leases, many others had hit breaking points: Restaurant sales haven’t bounced back to pre-pandemic levels, but commercial rents have, owners say. To learn more, we asked five restaurant owners about their decision to close.
“We never picked up”
Milu survived a pandemic — in Flatiron, without office workers — so why did its second location close after six months? In June, the fast-casual Chinese restaurant expanded to Williamsburg with a 32-seat restaurant. Different from the original in Manhattan, it had a full bar. “We’re really trying to build a neighborhood restaurant,” co-owner Vincent Chao said at the time.
But by December, business at the restaurant still hadn’t picked up. “We couldn’t sustain it,” says co-owner Connie Chung, a former sous chef at Eleven Madison Park. The restaurant scrapped its plans to serve dim sum at brunch and closed instead. The original in Flatiron is still open.
“Office workers are not in the office”
A few blocks west of Milu, King David Tacos has sold breakfast tacos in Madison Square Park for years. The company sells its tacos from coffee shops and bars across the city, but it was down to one location in Manhattan. (It ran another taco cart, in the Financial District, that closed during the pandemic.) Owner Liz Solomon decided to pull the plug at the start of the year, ahead of its fifth anniversary in the park.
“It doesn’t make sense anymore,” Solomon says. “Office workers are not reliably in the office. Sales patterns are all over the map and meager.” To stay afloat, she would have had to raise prices — at least $8 each for a taco, up from $5 to $6 apiece at the start of the year. “We loved being there,” she says. “We just needed to make a tough decision to preserve the healthier and more promising parts of the business.”
“People are staying indoors”
Que Chevere opened three months before the start of the pandemic — but unlike many businesses in that position, it hustled and managed to survive. Four years later, owner Mike Petrovitch is calling it quits. “They gave me a short-term lease,” he says. “The time is up.” The Puerto Rican food stall was located in the Market Line food hall, below Essex Market. Because it was underground, foot traffic “wasn’t consistent,” Petrovitch says. He either had dozens of customers or only a handful.
From past years, Petrovitch knows that from January to March, “you have to hustle,” he says. He lowers his catering fees and brings down the price of food on delivery apps to attract customers and survive the drought. “People are staying indoors,” he says. “At the end of March, the bears come out of hibernation.” Headed into another winter, it made sense to close his original location. The brand has another outpost inside the Urbanspace food hall in the Financial District that’s still open; it opened in 2022.
“It’s unusually quiet”
For the last five years, John McDonald has run Bistrot Leo, a French restaurant, inside of the Sixty Soho Hotel. That changed at the end of the year, when the building’s new owner, the Standard, closed the hotel for extensive renovations. It was one of a handful of Manhattan properties to change ownership after the pandemic. “I knew it was coming, but I wouldn’t have left,” McDonald says.
The Manhattan restaurateur has other businesses in the area, including Lure Fishbar in Soho and Smyth Tavern in Tribeca. They’re feeling the squeeze from what he calls an “unusually quiet” start to the year. “The first weeks of January are always slow, but this is worse than normal,” he says. “Local restaurants that appear to be busy ... There’s a good chance they are losing money or barely breaking even.”
“You need buzz from the start”
In November, Johnny Huynh opened a second location of his hot dog shop, Glizzy’s, on St. Marks Place. The original, a small storefront in Williamsburg, had closed a few months earlier, but he was trying again in the East Village. Two months later, Glizzy’s was closed.
Huynh, who also owns Lucy’s Vietnamese in Brooklyn, attributed the closure to the rising costs of running a restaurant: “Food costs are up. The minimum wage is up. Unless you have tons of money, it’s not going to work.” Early on, the shop was the subject of an article in New York Magazine, which pit it against Crif Dogs, but foot traffic never picked up. “You need buzz from the start,” Huynh says.