By James Maher
Name: Niall Grant
Occupation: Owner, Tuck Shop
Location: 1st Street between 1st and 2nd Avenue
Time: 2 p.m. on Monday, Feb 1
I’m from the center of Dublin. I was 22 when I came to New York in 1993. I was kind of messing around after dropping out of high school and then I came home one day and my mother was smiling strangely at me. There was a big envelope from the U.S. government on the counter. I had won the Green Card Lottery. My brother, who was here at the time, entered me and it was one of those where you were allowed to send as many entries as you’d like. I sent about 40, but it happened to be the one that my brother sent off because he got my middle name wrong.
Back then a lot of people won the Green Card Lottery. We all wanted to get out of Ireland. I was always going to get out, whether it was London or Australia. A lot of my close friends did as well. I’ve had friends here who I’ve known since age 7. We all came here and lived together and went into different fields. It certainly made it easier.
My brother was living in Williamsburg at the time. So I lived with him for a couple of months, and then I came to the East Village. It was still nice and affordable back then. The bars and the music scene and the restaurants drew me here — everything. It was full of great fun.
I had been working in restaurants since pretty much dropping out of high school. I just started working in restaurants because I needed to pay the rent. I worked at Elephant & Castle in Greenwich Village, which is still there. From there, I went to another part of that restaurant family, which was Keens Steakhouse. I spent about eight years working there in the 1990s. It was very lucrative and lots of fun. You finished work at 11 at night and started at 11 a.m. the next day. Then I opened a bar and a nightclub with my roommates on East Third Street ... before opening up this place in 2005.
I used to have an Australian business partner and we worked very well together. We started the business on a handshake and ended on a handshake three or four years ago. After Sandy, he didn’t want to bother taking the business out of debt again and he wanted to move to California. That’s where the Australian side came from. My side was that I’m Irish but I didn’t want to open an Irish bar. I wanted to do something different. The pies are international. We have a Thai chicken pie, which you might not get in Ireland, but you would get in Australia. And in Ireland and England there’s a meat pie culture.
I love this street. After 11 years here, I know everybody’s face. There are still a lot of the same old faces. All these guys hang out in front of the place. Some have been here for maybe 30 years. You see people grow up. It’s great to be part of a community like that. It’s nice seeing the whole family grow up upstairs. The street hasn’t changed that much, although it has gotten more quiet since we moved in. There’s less nightlife but we’re doing more lunch business and we’re focused on that more.
We’ve also had a place in Chelsea Market for about five years. We’re planning to expand that soon. We’re hoping to sign a new deal with Chelsea Market next week and then we’ll knock that out pretty quickly because the rent is massive. We’re going to have to turn it around quickly and start making money. We’re about to open in a big space across from us, which will allow us to have a second kitchen, which will produce vegetables for here and there. Here we’re bursting at the seams. We can’t do anything more.
I married a girl from the Lower East Side. We met in a bar on Orchard Street eight years ago and had a son a few years later. She’s a New York Times bestselling chef, Doris Choi. She’s taking over part of the vegetable menu and is going to put her influences on it. She’s very healthy. So we’ll have the good and the bad of my pies and her veggie, raw foods. So that’s what we’re going to do in Chelsea and we’re bringing that over here too.
James Maher is a fine art and studio photographer based in the East Village. Find his website here.