Friday, July 3, 2015
[B&H in happier days by Ken Goldstein via Facebook]
B&H Dairy has remained shuttered since the deadly Second Avenue gas explosion on March 26.
The 73-year-old lunch counter at 127 Second Ave. between East Seventh Street and St. Mark's Place was close to reopening several times this spring, only to encounter an unexpected setback, such as in early May when the FDNY said that B&H needed a new fire suppression system. (Safety requirements from the city have become stricter since March 26.)
This upgrade, expected to cost $28,000, has kept the small restaurant from opening these past two months. The upgrade is also looking like the major factor that could permanently close B&H.
For starters, owners Fawzy Abdelwahed and Ola Smigielsk needed approval from the Landmarks Preservation Commission (the building is in the East Village/Lower East Side Historic District) to install the new fire suppression system. The LPC approval finally came through last week. And as of Wednesday, the DOB had issued the necessary permit for the job. Work starts on Monday. (The contractor needed to be first approved by the FDNY.)
Now it looks like another few weeks before B&H can possibly reopen. "Another few weeks" is something that Abdelwahed has heard all too often in recent months. Meanwhile, other nearby restaurants were able to reopen fairly quickly after the explosion.
We spoke with Abdelwahed on the phone this week. He was understandably frustrated.
"I have bills to pay. What am I going to do? Where am I going to get assistance from? I just need to open the restaurant — simple," said Abdelwahed, who estimates that his monthly costs are $30,000, which includes rent, taxes and labor costs. (B&H successfully raised $26,000 in a crowdfunding campaign back in April.)
How about the Mayor’s Fund to Advance New York City, which promised financial assistance to residents and businesses impacted by the Second Avenue explosion?
"They promised to give people money who have been affected by the explosion, but this has never happened," he said. "I've never heard from them."
However, he expressed his gratitude to Bernadette Nation from the Small Business Services agency (a mayoral agency), who has lately been advocating on B&H's behalf along with Community Board 3 officials. And there are the B&H faithful. "We have very big support from our customers," he said. "Since being closed the only people who care about us are our customers."
While there is progress to report, B&H still has a labyrinth of red tape to navigate before reopening. For example, after the contractor finishes the work, the FDNY must approve the new system, then ConEd has to approve the building's new gas lines (already installed). Once B&H gets final approval by all involved parties, the Department of Health steps in for an inspection before the restaurant is permitted to serve food again. (B&H had an A rating before.)
And if there is another setback, what will that do to B&H's chances of reopening?
“As each day goes by, I cannot pay the rent if we are closed. Two more weeks and I cannot afford it anymore," he said. "Two more weeks and I’m done. That’s it."
For his part, Abdelwahed just wants to get back to work.
“I miss the whole operation. I miss my customers. I miss seeing them. They are my friends — I know them by name. I miss serving people every day. I miss my job every day," he said, "I get up every day and I don’t know what to do. It is a very bad feeling."
[Photo of Fawzy and Ola from May 9 by Derek Berg]
For further reading:
Save the B&H (Jeremiah's Vanishing New York)
NYI featured B&H last night on its "NY1 For You" segment.