Monday, April 21, 2014
That's apparently it for Exchange Alley; is 424 E. 9th St. a doomed restaurant location?
Last Monday, we noted that Exchange Alley on East Ninth Street had not been open for the past week or so. Everything was still in place inside. It looked like a working restaurant.
In recent days, we noticed that the space had been cleared out … and paper is now hanging in the front windows. The phone is no longer in service either.
Perhaps we can say that this is a jinxed/doomed location for a restaurant? Exchange Alley, which opened in August 2012, was the latest to give this space a try between Avenue A and First Avenue … where Olivia, Sintir and Zi' Pep all closed in fairly quick succession.
As Eater put it, "Exchange Alley opened to some decent buzz, but most of the big critics skipped the restaurant, and the hype quickly died down."
Posted by Grieve at 5:00 AM
Labels: Exchange Alley
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Some of these restaurant owners need to think about their concepts before they open. The big question they should consider is: is this kind of place that people in the neighborhood are going to eat at regularly? I used to go to the old-school joints around here a couple of times a week because I could afford their prices. I can't afford to do that at any of the new places that have opened in the last few years. I also want to eat somewhere where I feel at home. Some of these places go overboard with their themes.
In the aftermath of Sandy, the cook/owner opened his kitchen, cooked up a big meal and had free palates of pasta primavera on the house, with token donations, and good wine. After a nerving night of wind and water, this was a blessing since nothing else was open.
I thought EA was a little pricey for regular visits, but I feel like the prices were in the range of what many restaurants in the neighborhood charge now, the food was good, and the place was pretty packed during prime time. Not a perfect restaurant, but we really loved the priest stranglers and the Bananas Foster.
It is perhaps the case that, even with high prices, it's hard for these venues to survive. The rents are very, very high. There is a reason that long-time venues decide to pack up shop when the rent goes up - it's suicide to run a traditional business at market-average prices with the new rent levels, and we see the effects of this phase in over 10 years (we're about 5 years into an increase cycle - the top of the market is a little flat because banks & chains are not expanding as aggressively as they were).
I do not like the suggestion that any restaurant that fails to garner a substantial wave of critical notice deserves a sad fate. That notion is simply not true, and it's unsustainable as a business goal. There are hundreds of neighborhoods in the city and not every single neighborhood restaurant can possibly get singled out for hype by publications that run about 50 reviews a year. A lot of restaurants exist and thrive without the explicit blessing of the top critics. And a lot of the ones that do have that blessing fail, hard. Eater doesn't understand the restaurant business overall if that is listed outright as a cause of failure here. (I think they understand it from the perspective that Exchange Alley didn't hire a powerful enough publicist, so their editors weren't made to care enough about it? Without more information that EA's management was specifically relying on strong reviews to drive a strong reservation book, there's no basis in reality for the assertion that critical attention is relevant to this situation)
Their rent was probably too high to make month after month.. you fall behind and cut corners in other areas to pay the rent.
Then you never catch up.. one small disaster is enough to pack you up for good.
I agree with many of the points made already but I believe a restaurant must serve its immediate neighbored first and the rest of the city second. Unfortunately due to rents that are proving to be too high for even the better quality places to stay open. A restaurant must hit it big like the foodie mecca Momafuku to have any staying power. The restaurant business has always been a hard one but the stakes as so high now as is the competition. New Yorkers eat out much more than the average American but we can only do this at local, simple places which are affordable, sadly these are places are vanishing and being replace with restaurants that go under in 2 years.
In answer to your question, Grieve, yes, doomed. No restaurant will ever make it at this location.
You feel it too, I'm sure. Just one look at the place and you know.
the truth is that there was a split between the partners a few months back. the chef/founding partner left and the other partner(s) tried to carry on. it didn't work.
the chef was great. the prices, at least for the 1st year or so, were reasonable and the service was great. the place was usually packed and became too "fascionble" for my tastes but i still liked sitting at the bar, having a snack and a few drinks.
the chef (paul, i believe) was the heart of the place. i don't know what the split was about but the money guys tried to carry on, presumably with another cook. i guess they missed the point.
As a "New Orleans" restaurant I was always surprised they didn't serve cocktails. I am sure this--along with the too-dim lighting and generally off-putting attitude of the staff--contributed to Exchange Alley's demise.
This place was good, if a little expensive, and they had a picture of Johnny Thunders hanging up next to an old Les Paul Jr (TV Yellow). So, they always got a thumbs up from me. Sad to see them go.
This is too bad--they were really nice folks. Nothing can survive in this neighborhood anymore. The bottom line is just too high. Even places that you *think* are doing well are barely scraping by.
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