Recently, Pata Negra had a five year anniversary. It coincides closely with my own. I thought about a celebratory party, but was so busy with business and life, I was just too tired to even plan it. With some time to reflect on the birthday, I have come to realize a few things.
First, I am fortunate to have stayed in business for five years. This is a statement of fact for several reasons. New York City is ripe with people who work hard and open businesses every day. In the restaurant industry, there are talented/celebrity chefs, savvy business people, and corporations with deep pockets who know how to play the game and survive in any economic climate.
Pata Negra opened in February 2008, and let’s just say that it was rough going for about three years. As I look around me in the East Village, so many restaurants have come and gone, even long established ones with healthy reputations. Pata Negra has survived real estate tax increases (+25% of the base rent), worker’s compensation fines (idiotic inspector/audit), unwarranted DOH fines, and stiff competition (Bar Veloce, Xunta now Nai,and Terroir to start). When all the buzz is about David Chang or Motorino pizza or the populist Sarita’s Mac-n-Cheese, Pata Negra has survived despite these admittedly better business models for the demographic.
I am no celebrity chef, have no corporate backing, and certainly do not play/pay into the advertising game that exists (Yelp could blow up for all I care). Frank Bruni has dined at Terroir and gave it a one star rating when he was chief critic for the New York Times. The other night I saw him in the Duck’s Eatery (Leon’s replacement), two doors down from me.
I receive invitations to advertise weekly, from every deal site from GroupOn to Single Platform to you name it. Every one of these firms claim they can get me more exposure on NY Magazine or Urbanspoon or whatever. And I am not even going to get into it about YELP.
My business is simple, Spanish Jamon, cheese, and wine, augmented by a few select tapas. It is a European business model. There is no paella (btw, there is no authentic paella in all of NY). No croquetas or patatas bravas, in fact nothing fried (choice & kitchen limitation). No take-out or delivery. The point is to come in and experience Pata Negra, to be transported somewhere in Spain, with friendly, attentive service, great jamon y queso, and a nice glass of wine/sherry that I spend a lot of time and research choosing.
Pata Negra is not built for every one, every mood, or every occasion. It is a civilized place for civilized people. It functions pretty much the way I had envisioned it many, many years ago when I visited a bar in Barcelona just like it.
My staff and I are eager to please every one who steps through the door, and for 99% of those customers, we strive to make their experience memorable. The other 1% may be rewarded with a sharp tongue from its owner, if they dare to post lies or refuse to follow house policies. In these cases the customers are not always right.
I am still thinking of throwing a bash, with some artisanal beers and a pata negra jamon, but I would hate to leave any one of those who have supported me for so long out. If you are reading this post, please forward me your e-mail address.
Pata Negra has made it through five topsy turvy years and to this I say, “Survival is the new success.” The truth is that I wouldn’t have made it without the continuing patronage of many lovely, civilized people, friends and family who continue to visit and support Pata Negra, restoring faith in this project whose conception dates back to 1990, my first visit to Spain. Of course, a huge thank you to my staff, some who have been with me through the whole ride, past and present, who allow me my jaunts to Europe, my siestas and wild moodswings, and my mom who minds the shop when I am ill. Without them, I would be insane.
THANK YOU FROM THE BOTTOM OF MY HEART.
The following is a rambling of the landscape change within the last five years, just within a block or two of Pata Negra, to illustrate how hard it is to stay open in an ever changing landscape and economy.
There has been a lot of movement on First Avenue in the East Village lately. Since I rented the space on 12th street just off of First Avenue, storefronts have been transforming before you can decide to pay a visit. On the corner of 14th street, there was a bagel shop, and they shuttered for a long time until Hot & Crusty moved in. Next door, Tepito, a Mexican cantina opened. Tepito shut its doors last Sunday. Vinny’s pizzeria has been around for ten years, but recently a dollar pizza shop and new next door 2 Bros Pizza shop are putting the squeeze on Vinny, prompting him to counter with a dollar slice special of his own. Michael Bao ran out of town after his Bao BBQ never caught on. I still remember my first and last visit. He gave me a free bottle of Red Boat fish sauce. Too bad. Subway moved in and has stuck around. On the corner of 11th, the deli has changed hands twice, and Starbucks is officially planted on 11th street. Two Indian restos and a Filipino joint were run off the block on 13th st. so that Lebanese Balade, Papa John’s and Tallgrass organic burger joint could open. Significantly, the Red Head moved in to the former Detours space and is still thriving. Jeepney has just moved in, adding to Maharlinka further down First Ave. Kumo sushi has replaced a short lived barbecue spot as well catering to NYU sensibilities and budget. Around the east side of 13th street, Ichibantei has changed hands and now is offering reggae music, frosty mugged Sapporo and great kara age, out went the octopus balls and strange marble floor. On 12th street, Sara’s Mac n Cheese took the space to my left for a bustling take out business, a busted massage parlor for take out, and Motorino moved into Una Pizza Napoletana. Thai terminal has changed hands twice as well, and Ducks Eatery is in the defunct Leon space, and seems to be here to stay. The corner deli is being transformed into a restaurant now, hopefully a good addition to the block. Of course Hearth and Terroir are still there, doing quite well (I imagine). Up the street from me Angelika Kitchen and John’s are holding court, although I recently saw a sign stating that John’s is serving vegan and gluten free food, also posting a picture of Guy Fieri in an effort to keep up with the times. Not a good sign if you ask me. Shima rounds out the block and the tavern opposite corner. Bar Veloce consumed Bar Carerra and is now open almost all day. Milk bar has moved across the street to make room for Booker and Dax, a trendy nitrogen bar. Further down first avenue, Polonia closed, Lasso took over a failed project by Veloce people called Solex, Ugly Kitchen saddled up next door, 1st avenue Pierogi has redone itself, and three sandwich shops opened, Little Piggy, Joedough, and Whitmans (burgers technically). I prefer Porchetta. Yogurt shops have closed four times, as no one seems to understand that yogurt just doesn’t sell in the winter. There are three hookah bars, and two middle eastern halal spots, supported by the Muslim community associated with the Mosque and cab drivers. The one Dominican spot on 12th still shines, as well as the last remnants of Italian joints hold on, Veneiro;s, Lanza’s, etc. The tapas bar on 11th , Xunta, has become Nai, and Iggy replaced the beloved pizzeria Rosa’s. Momofuku is there, lines and all. I can’t quite recall what The Bean replaced, but that is probably a good thing, Tarelucci y Vino is now surrounded by coffe competition. Café Abraco is my choice, after a stop at Xian’s famous foods or South Brooklyn pizza (my go to lunch spots). Coyote Ugly and Cheap Shots are still serving NYU drunks until the wee hours, better bars like Lunasa and the Irish pubs off St. Mark’s thankfully still around. The only wine shop on First, Tinto Fino, sells a great list of Spanish jewels.
There are other shops on First Ave., thrift, technical, fast food and otherwise. Check them out for yourself. Obviously I will not mention those chain corporation that have come to replace defunct storefronts, the ATM’s and chain pharmacies that are so prevalent because only they can afford the rising rents and real estate taxes, the reason why neighborhoods are fast becoming non-descript and mall-like.