Sunday, April 26, 2020

An appreciation: Gabrielle Hamilton's essay on Prune in The New York Times Magazine



There has been a lot of talk about Prune chef-owner Gabrielle Hamilton's compelling essay in The New York Times Magazine today (online earlier) titled "My Restaurant Was My Life for 20 Years. Does the World Need It Anymore?"

Not even sure where to start with excerpts on her honest assessment of reopening the First Street mainstay in a post-COVID-19 world.

She talks about the neighborhood... where even a seemingly successful restaurant struggles to stay in business...

The concerns before coronavirus are still universal: The restaurant as we know it is no longer viable on its own. You can’t have tipped employees making $45 an hour while line cooks make $15. You can’t buy a $3 can of cheap beer at a dive bar in the East Village if the “dive bar” is actually paying $18,000 a month in rent, $30,000 a month in payroll; it would have to cost $10. I can’t keep hosing down the sauté corner myself just to have enough money to repair the ripped awning.

Prune is in the East Village because I’ve lived in the East Village for more than 30 years. I moved here because it was where you could get an apartment for $450 a month. In 1999, when I opened Prune, I still woke each morning to roosters crowing from the rooftop of the tenement building down the block, which is now a steel-and-glass tower. A less-than-500-square-foot studio apartment rents for $3,810 a month...

Her honesty about the brunch mob was particularly interesting ...

And God, the brunch, the brunch. The phone hauled out for every single pancake and every single Bloody Mary to be photographed and Instagrammed. That guy who strolls in and won’t remove his sunglasses as he holds up two fingers at my hostess without saying a word: He wants a table for two. The purebred lap dogs now passed off as service animals to calm the anxieties that might arise from eating eggs Benedict on a Sunday afternoon. I want the girl who called the first day of our mandated shut down to call back, in however many months when restaurants are allowed to reopen, so I can tell her with delight and sincerity: No. We are not open for brunch. There is no more brunch.

Anyway, you can read it for yourself here.

Also, someone left a compliment about the article on Prune's gate yesterday...

7 comments:

Jason_Chatfield said...

This was so good. Desperately sad, but so well written.

Giovanni said...

This is a great article, but let’s not let the message get lost in this amazing work of prose: this society only protects the rich and the strong, and everyone else must fend for themselves. Gabrielle Hamilton details how her insurance won’t cover any of her losses during the shutdown. Her bank refused to give her any kind of loan. She’s at the mercy of her landlord, and her only hope is that if they evict her,
it will be hard to find another tenant — Which never stopped any landlord for the Vic thing a perfectly good tenant as we saw with Züm Schneider. She does not even have any health insurance herself. Neither does her wife. After going through all this, after seeing the realities of trying to start a business in New York, who’s going to want to open a restaurant now?

The US government is rushing to help large corporations like Shake Shack survive while small restaurants are left on their own. The US government is only giving its citizens $1200 per person, while in Canada is giving everyone affected $2000 a month for four months, and throughout Europe most workers are receiving over 70% of their salary during the shutdown. What are we supposed to do with $1200? Pay for a one-way ticket to somewhere else? And what do we do when we get there?

People are already leaving New York City. Students are deciding that paying sky high tuition just isn’t worth it anymore. Businesses will fail at a rate we haven’t seen since the Great Depression. Things are changing fast now. But the one thing that isn’t changing is our vulture capitalist society. In this society, either you're too big to fail or too small to matter. I hope business is like Prune can reopen. But if they do so it will be because of the heroic efforts of their owners and not because they got a bail out like everybody else who can afford to bribe the politicians.

Goggla said...

This article is really excellent - thank you for sharing. I recommend listening to the audio version to capture the emotion. If Prune ever opens again, count on me being there. But not for brunch! ;)

tschleder said...

Thank you. Speak.

Anonymous said...

This was a wonderful & very informative article; she's an excellent writer. And she is so, so right about brunch.

Would brunch even exist at all these days if taking photos of your food were banned?? Do you go to brunch to see your friends, or to post food pictures on Instagram? A lot of people I know have completely given up going to brunch b/c it's become so ridiculous.

Anonymous said...

The noisy brunch twits that come storming into the neighborhood on the weekends in nice weather have been making me sick for years. Poco comes to mind. I finally feel peace on the weekends, despite the overwhelming anxiety of everything else.

Anonymous said...

Yes Poco is one of the worst offenders!! Affects the whole block.