Wednesday, January 13, 2016
[Photo from Jan. 14, 2015]
On the morning of Jan. 13, 2015, a fire broke out in the basement of Guayoyo, the Venezuelan restaurant at 133 E. Fourth St. and First Avenue.
Residents in the building were briefly evacuated, but the FDNY allowed them to return a short time later.
In the months that followed, we saw a few workers inside cleaning up the restaurant space. One employee on the scene last April told us that he hoped that Guayoyo would be back open "soon."
The space has sat empty now for months.
[EVG photo from last week]
We haven't seen any signs of life. The restaurant's phone is no longer in service ... and no one responded to a message we sent to Guayoyo's public email account.
During a follow-up inspection after the fire, Con Ed discovered a gas leak in the building, according to a spokesperson for landlord Icon Realty. Con Ed then shut off gas service to the building. For the past year, a temporary boiler has sat outside the residential entrance on East Fourth Street.
According to Chris Coffey, the Icon representative, a majority of tenants have now had their gas service restored.
"We're continuing to work with the restaurant to get them up and running as soon as possible," Coffey, managing director with Tusk Strategies, told us yesterday. However, he said that there wasn't any timeframe for their return, citing the ongoing involvement with DOB and Con Ed representatives.
He said getting the gas service restored — for both the tenants and the restaurant — was a "daily activity" for the landlord. According to permits on file at the DOB website, the city has yet to approve a new fire suppression system for the restaurant. (The permit was filed on Oct. 1. The city disapproved of the plan on Dec. 1.)
As seen with B&H's labyrinth of red tape earlier last summer ... after the city OKs the permit ... and a FDNY-approved contractor does the necessary kitchen work, the FDNY must sign off on the new system. Then Con Ed steps in to test the gas lines. Once the restaurant receives final approval by all involved parties, the Department of Health arrives for an inspection before any food can be served.
So how can Guayoyo survive a year — and longer — without income but with mounting expenses?
According to Coffey, the restaurant does not currently have to pay rent ... and he says that Icon has waved over $80,000 in back rent.
The husband-wife team who own Guayoyo previously ran Kura Sushi at the address, which dates to 1988. After a lawsuit prompted by a similarly name restaurant in California, Kura later became Ishikura before closing in 2009.
There are residents who feel as if Icon has been deliberately dragging along the process so Guayoyo will eventually vacate their lease. Arthur Nersesian, a local writer, neighbor and frequent Guayoyo patron, figures the delay will allow Icon "to turn the corner into another overpriced shithole that will attract the worst and destroy what to me is still an East Village relic."