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Seasoned Restaurateurs Plan To Open Doors Starting Mid-June Despite Pandemic Challenges
By Tina Traster
Americans have a tradition – when the chips are down, they bet on themselves. Which is exactly what four seasoned restaurateurs are doing in the Village of Piermont as each gears up to open dining concepts within the next few weeks.
All say they have confidence, and are optimistic, despite the challenges restaurants have faced through the pandemic, and more recently with labor shortages, supply chain disruption, and inflation. In part, each echoes the sentiment that ‘this is what they do,’ but they also believe in Piermont, which has a unique set of characteristics that make it an ideal culinary hub. Although four restaurants folded over the past couple of years, the foodie scene is about to get a robust shot in the arm.
Owners of a group of Manhattan Irish pubs have bought the former 14 & Hudson at 457 Piermont Avenue. Doug Nguyen, former owner of Wasabi in Nyack, is opening Sabi Sushi at 506 Piermont Avenue, in previous location of Moroccan restaurant Mazagan, and before that Seasons of Piermont and Xavier’s. The team behind Burger Loft and District 96 in New City will open a craft brewery. And a high-profile chef is opening a restaurant in the historic Gerhardt’s Garage in the heart of town at 505 Piermont Avenue.
It has been a difficult two years but I’m confident that the heyday of the restaurant is not over. Never bet against New York. It always comes back, every time,” said Chef Iannuccilli.
The former garage site is about to transform into Otto’s Full Service, a 130-seat New American restaurant that will hedge its bets with a diversity of offerings including an extensive hand-crafted menu, take-out, event space and special events.
“I think four restaurants opening at one time is a win for everyone,” said Chef Phil Iannuccilli, who most recently worked as the Executive Chef at the Greenwich Country Club in Connecticut and has had an impressive and peripatetic career in the U.S. and abroad. “This will bring people back out. It has been a difficult two years but I’m confident that the heyday of the restaurant is not over. Never bet against New York. It always comes back, every time.”
The former 1920s gas station, and later car service garage, was purchased by David Kaliff in 2018 for $1,200,000, according to public records. The team hopes to breathe new life into the building – and the village – but the name is a nod to its past use and Iannuccilli says the design and vibe will pay homage to its history.
“We hope to capture and embrace the vibe of the original building,” he said. “We are keeping the big garage doors. The menu itself is a celebration of American cooking but with a multicultural approach. And we are going to put our name on a Shell Station sign.”
Like Otto’s, the experienced trio that owns New City’s Burger Loft, District 96, Blue Fig and Bardonia’s Piata Greek Kitchen, are rehabbing the long shuttered 474 Piermont Avenue near Village Hall to open a second District 96 brewery.
“We’ve gutted the whole thing,” said co-owner John Potenza. “We’ve redone the plumbing, electric and the patio.”
Potenza, who acknowledged the challenge restaurateurs have faced in recent years said, “The key is to just keep doing what you’re doing.”
The team plans to replicate the concept of District 96 in the 600 square-foot space with small plates, seafood, fresh cocktails, craft beer, and wine. The group is betting on Piermont’s seasonal crowds that gravitate to the picturesque village for its shops, food scene, and gorgeous Hudson River location. Potenza expects the 400 -square-foot outdoor patio seating will be a draw for the village.
“It’s a small restaurant with a big patio,” he said. “We know times have been hard, but we’re expecting a good reception. Everyone’s been hard hit but we’re not panicking. Things always happen. We’ve made it through Covid. We’ve just got to work harder.”
As the world enters the third year of the ongoing pandemic, restaurant operators are continuing to adapt to doing business in the face of an onslaught of challenges from labor to inflation and Covid variants. While sales are rebounding, a report from the National Restaurant Association suggests it will be a year or more before conditions return to normal as tens of thousands of restaurants have shuttered — some permanently.
While the group’s data show more than half of all operators believe it will be at least a year for business to return to normal, most operators, from fine dining to quick service, said they expect sales will either maintain or grow this year, exhibiting cautious optimism.
Anne Reilly and her family have been running a group of New York City Irish pubs, including Connelly’s in Times Square, for the past 30 years. The family-run business closed one Connelly’s location in midtown due to the pandemic. But they are underway with opening Reilly’s Public House at 457 Piermont Avenue, an Irish pub “with an upscale twist,” said Reilly.
The Reillys, who said they bought the building and the former restaurant for an undisclosed price, were drawn to Piermont because it reminds them of an Irish Village where they spend time during summers in County Galway.
“It’s always been in the back of our minds to open a restaurant in Piermont,” said Reilly who lives in Norwood, NJ. “It has been a massive struggle to navigate the pandemic. Reports are that 25 percent of all Irish pubs have closed in New York City. But we feel good about Piermont. It’s got a unique character and personality. It’s great news that all these restaurants are opening at the same time. Business brings business.”
Among the four newcomers, Nguyen has endured the worst pandemic hardship but is nonetheless undeterred. The Palisades resident said he shut down four Manhattan establishments in Madison Square, the Financial District, and two food halls at the Plaza Hotel.
“In the city, workers have not yet come back,” he said. “It’s been a big financial hit. But I’m confident about opening a restaurant in Piermont. It’s what I know. It’s what I’m good at.”
The chef/owner points out that Piermont is a beautiful historic town with strong seasonal crowds that gravitate to the waterfront for nights out dining and ambling.
Piermont’s Mayor Bruce Tucker agrees.
“The village is a mecca for foodies, it’s a destination for people from Manhattan, Westchester, and New Jersey,” said Tucker. “We’re building on that reputation. We’re seeing four skilled restaurateurs who truly believe they have a good idea and they think Piermont is a good place to try it out.”