Celebrating restaurant birthdays and preventing their deaths
Twenty-five years ago two restaurants opened in a neighborhood that some called the Lower West Side. There were some warehouses, a few artists and hardly any residents except those living at Independence Plaza. Both the Odeon and Capsouto Frères are part of the reason Tribeca grew into a vibrant arts community with more great restaurants.
The anniversaries provide a good opportunity to reflect on these restaurants as well as on the state of affairs for small businesses in Lower Manhattan.
First, the owners of both restaurants should feel an extraordinary sense of pride of making it past five years, let alone 25. The Odeon opened originally by Keith and Brian McNally along with the current owner, Lynn Wagenknecht quickly became synonymous with Downtown hip and appropriately enough, was a hangout for the Not Yet Ready for Primetime Players starring in Saturday Night Live. The bright Odeon sign continues to stand out on late night treks down W. Broadway and captured the feel for the novel, Bright Lights, Big City. The restaurant remains an important presence in the neighborhood.
Brothers Jacques, Sammy, and Albert Capsouto opened on Washington St. 25 years ago, most of which time they were guided by a familiar presence, their charming mother, Eve, who died two years ago. The Capsoutos opened their doors and refrigerators in the days that followed Sept. 11, 2001 and Albert has remained a spokesperson for the needs of small businesses Downtown.
The Capsoutos, Wagenknecht and many Tribeca business owners are far enough away from the World Trade Center site to be doing better than others. Their counterparts south of the W.T.C., particularly on Greenwich and Washington Sts., are holding on as best they can and still need lots of help to keep this community strong. That is why we are so happy to report in this issue that George Koulmentas just reopened Georges Restaurant at Greenwich and Rector Sts.
Georges moved to the corner 22 years ago. Even a journalists heart cant help but go out to Koulmentas. His business was suffering after 9/11, but he was able to cobble together the money to buy the restaurant building in 2002, only to discover a crack two weeks later that led to the buildings demolition by the city. With a series of bad options, he has taken what we hope is the least bad one and rebuilt his building and reopened his restaurant. We ask our readers to stop in, thank him for his confidence in the neighborhood and most importantly order some of his food, not only next week, but next month, and next year too.
While youre at it, go out of your way to walk south of the W.T.C. down Greenwich and Washington Sts. and give some of your business to those other businesses too.
There are no easy solutions for this area now called Greenwich St. South by the Lower Manhattan Development Corp., which does have a wonderful long-term plan to improve the area if more money can be found. In the meantime, the L.M.D.C., the Downtown Alliance and Wall Street Rising are three organizations that should focus or continue to focus on helping small businesses in the short-term, particularly ones near the W.T.C., the Stock Exchange or Park Row three areas where businesses are suffering because of 9/11. Lower Manhattans rebirth will not happen unless our stores can stay alive.