Monday, August 8, 2022

East Village cafe AO Bowl closes, owner blames Sen. Schumer

Updated: See the comments for more from Zach the owner.

The Japanese health-food cafe AO Bowl has closed at 82 St. Mark's Place on the southwest corner of First Avenue. 

The quick-serve establishment, which offered a variety of bowls, smoothies and juices, opened in early 2021 (after a few delays). 

In a goodbye letter left on the door for patrons, ownership puts the blame on Sen. Charles Schumer...
The letter reads in part: 
Sen. Schumer stabbed us in the back after first promising and then failing to replenish the SBA Restaurant Revitalization Fund (RRF). This would have reimbursed us for costs we had to bear from the government-mandated closures. Many large restaurant chains got millions from the RRF while small businesses like us got nothing, even after being approved... 

Over the last year of hanging on, Sen. Schumer continues to use as as a bargaining chip and recently attempted to kill RRF replishment by taking it out of the budget to secure other projects. Small businesses and restaurants should not be political pawns. Business owners should not have to incur tons of debt and get thrown into bankruptcy territory because of government negligence and mismangement.
You can read the latest on the RRF funds here.

We first mentioned AO's arrival in July 2019 (previously going as 
Eiyō Bowl). The AO Instagram account listed an October 2020 opening, though that was pushed back several months. According to an announcement about AO, this was the "first-ever cafe in the U.S. to use vacuum blenders to create vacuum-pressed smoothies and juice on premise."

In 2019, workers gutted this single-level structure on the corner ... and divided the storefront into several retail spaces. The other new tenant here is the Brooklyn Dumpling Shop.

The former occupant, Foot Gear Plus, closed in July 2018 after nearly 40 years in business.

24 comments:

Anonymous said...

Do me a favor... I visited the place for a "pre opening tasting". Got a very weird vibe, like these guys didn't really have a concrete business plan, and not much idea about what they were doing next. Then it took forever to actually open, and even then each time I was passing by, it seemed closed.
Tons of restaurants got financial aid thanks to Schumer, who's by the way your not sugar daddy, and has the burden of a whole country (plus a Manchin and a Sinema) on his shoulders.
Yeah, let's sabotage climate change fight and meds prices for some guys experimenting with oatmeal milk.

Anonymous said...

@ 5:30 - Thank you for adding the civics lesson. The people who wrote the goodbye letter don’t understand how our government functions.

Neighbor said...

Too bad. They had good food here and were always very friendly. The EV needs more good to go spots like this.

Anonymous said...

I worked at a restaurant in the west village from 2019 to 2022 which remained open for over twenty years, who were forced to close recently. It is sad because they were beloved by the neighborhood and of course our staff and customers. The owners didn't receive the necessary resources from this revitalization fund to sustain itself during and after the pandemic with back rent, present expenses and beyond, which would have been a life saver. Considering this place that was highlighted was a very new establishment, and tens of thousands of other restaurants applied for this as well, there is a system in place with a limited amount of money left. Instead of assigning blame to Schumer, which my former employer didn't, who also just said it is the nature of the political game/lottery and how things often work in life and business as frustrating as they are, why not look inwards and take some accountability for perhaps why yours wasn't a model for success? Yes. The larger restaurant groups did receive assistance from this fund. I don't know how this is evenly distributed or even allowed given they have more probable resources to rely upon. And yes, it is not fair. Smaller owned restaurants took a HUGE hit unfortunately without much explanation or recourse in being rejected for this financial assistance. It sucks. There should have been better direction and oversight especially when it pertains to independently owned establishments. It is a gross misjudgment for sure. But Schumer isn't at the helm of the fund nor does he to my knowledge have jurisdiction in who is entitled to what. I can't stand when grown adults go to great lengths in being petty as to writing a letter and posting it on the door. What does this accomplish? I know of a handful of restaurants personally who didn't receive money from this fund. They are not reduced to this childish level. Stop assigning blame to others please. The only person who you are stabbing in the back is you.

Anonymous said...

Sorry, Zack, your business model was unsustainable because your product was not very interesting or unique. Maybe the money you were hoping for went to a place that was more popular, that people actually patronized. Either way, you roll the dice and you take your chances, and sometimes you come up snake eyes.

Anonymous said...

T = Time To LEAVE

Anonymous said...

They have bio business complaining and blaming others. The restaurants have had sooooooo many available funds and on top of that unlimited use of public space on the street and sidewalk that people have been raking it in with.. Enough. What about my business? Restaurants are not the only ones suffering.

Anonymous said...

lol this place was NOT good.. so it’s unsurprising that nobody went there.. and then they closed…

Anonymous said...

Seems plenty of other restaurants seem to be doing OK now nearly 2 years after Covid shutdown. Sure inflation and hike in prices has helped. They’re also driving more traffic, I wonder why? Maybe it’s because they offer a good product to consume. Stop using the government as an excuse as to why your business failed when it’s been 2 plus years. If it’s failing now, it’s because it wasn’t very good, sorry.

Anonymous said...

Their letter doesn’t have a leg to stand on. As mentioned, they first opened in early 2021, so they weren’t even in business during the height of the pandemic.

Anonymous said...

@anno 1:46, good call! lol, didn't even catch on to that. These guys weren't even around during the covid shutdown, no wonder they didn't get any relief from the government. The owner is very much out of touch. You don't just get relief for something when you open AFER the crisis.

Anonymous said...

I live in the block and I always found the place to be really sketchy. I never saw one person besides the staff in there. Something was definitely off about this establishment.

Anonymous said...

Just looking at the online reviews, the owner gets very defensive and rude when someone states their poor experience. I think this owner needs to take a long look at his own business practice, and stop blaming others for his shortcoming. Even in the reviews, he's blaming covid. Yes, Covid is still a thing, but every restaurant and hospitality industry has to adapt. I don't see them making excuses?

Anonymous said...

This place kinda sucked there i said it, long after it could be it was never open and when i was it was very meh sorry it didn't work out for the owners but they're really stretching the reality in their oped closing statement

Anonymous said...

It’s not Schumer’s fault that I never saw a single customer in there!!!

Anonymous said...

The Restaurant Revitalization Fund was a great concept, but it was massively underfunded with a disastrous execution.

The grant calculation was as follows:
2019 gross sales, minus 2020 gross sales, minus any PPP funding received.

It was meant to make whole the bars/restaurants/caterers that were so disproportionately impacted. Industry experts were asked by the Senate how much it would take to fund this program, it was estimated approximately $88 billion. Instead, $28.5 billion was all that was allocated.

However, while the program was massively underfunded, no changes were made to the grant calculation, nor were changes made to the maximum grant cap of $10 Million. So on one street there is a fully funded restaurant that may have received $10 million in a grant, and their neighbor that is equally as qualified and in need received $0.

177,000 businesses received $0, while only 100,000 businesses took the entirety of the $28.5 billion of funding. Instead of all getting some, some got all, which only further hurt the unfunded businesses, who were unable to complete with their fully funded neighbors, who are offering sign on bonuses while the industry fights over a limited labor pool with staffing shortages. The funded were also able to fight the inflation and goods shortages.

Oh, and Schumer is on record saying that the $28.5 billion was a “down payment,” and there was more to come for the industry.

Anonymous said...

The problem with ignorant, idiotic comments is that they are from ignorant idiot people who think they just know everything. Senator Schumer is the Leader of the Senate and the Restaurant Revitalization Fund was designed to help restaurants who were shut down by our government for extended periods of time across the country during the pandemic. They shut the restaurants down; No sales or income for all those restaurants as the Government told Americans it was not safe to go to restaurants. Imagine if you had a restaurant and with a week's notice, you were forced to close for months and then open for take out only, and then later at 25% capacity. How would you survive? All that expense and no customers. So for all you ignorant idiots, get to know the facts before you rant and criticize. There are 177,300 restaurants across the country who were PROMISED relief and got absolutely nothing, and furthermore, now has to compete with the restaurant right next door and/or across the street that received the aid. Think about that the next time you order your favorite dish, except they will likely be closing too because Senator Schumer did not keep the promise he made to help restaurants. Loser Schumer helped one third of the restaurants and left the rest with nothing; egregious.

Zack from AO Bowl said...

(1/2)
Hi, this is Zack from AO Bowl.

It was an incredible pleasure for us to serve the East Village Community. I've been here for a while now and this place means a lot to me. Time and time again we heard from people who came in and said what a great thing it was to have a healthy fast casual concept in the neighborhood. We're gluten free, organic, with no refined oil, no refined carbs, and no added sugar. Trust me our business didn't fail because our "product was not very interesting or unique" as one anonymous griever said, nor did it fail because another random griever claims he came in once and felt a "weird vibe". We had a lot of very happy regular customers and we ranked consistently 4.5+ stars on Google, Yelp, etc. In fact, we constantly have people reaching out as potential partners looking to bring our concept to other locations.

So here's the full story: We signed a lease on the place in 2019 right when the building was being finished construction and we started our restaurant buildout of the space in December. We had plans to open around April 2020, and unfortunately the pandemic hit in March with only a few weeks left of work that we needed to do. Because of all the stop work restrictions in place, our contractors actually could not even come back to finish up the job for months. It was a tumultuous summer with the building boarded up during the George Floyd protests. By the time we actually finished renovations it was October, and we went to hire employees, order food, etc. We hired a PR firm and paid them for October and November. And then the second wave came. We decided it didn't make sense to have a grand opening that winter with it being a ghost town outside with occupancy restrictions. So we shut down for the winter and decided to open in the Spring/Summer time. Now sometime that winter/spring is when we first heard of the Restaurant Revitalization Fund (RRF). We were denied PPP and EIDL funding since we didn't have any revenue in 2019, but the RRF would have reimbursed us for all our COVID costs, which included our biggest cost: rent for the past year during the time we weren't open. In fact, they'd also reimburse us for building outdoor dining and so we decided to build it. Our date of application for the RRF was actually the first date it was open. We called the SBA and they told us we were greenlighted and there was plenty of money for priority applicants (I was a priority applicant as a US veteran small business owner). No money came, however. I'm not sure how they decided which restaurants got picked, but most of the big restaurant chains got a lot of money (we're talking up to $10M) and most of the small restaurants that needed a fraction of that to survive like us got no money at all. This all-or-nothing method was probably not a good idea from the brilliant folks at the SBA and Congress, but then again, hindsight is 20/20 and everyone thought for sure there would be more funding coming very soon and it was always the plan for that to be only the initial round of funding. It wasn't just Sen. Schumer promising, but virtually every Senator other than Rand Paul at the time. So we had a frank conversation with our landlord and with government funding coming soon that was supposed to reimburse us for all the rent, they didn't want us to give any free rent (why would they) but agreed that we could pay some of the rent and defer the rest.

Zack from AO Bowl said...

(2/2)

Enter 2022. We had a lot of loans and owed a lot of money to our landlord, who now, like everyone else, said they "phasing out all covid related rent relief programs". We were already on a pre-pandemic lease and quite simply the numbers didn't work out when we looked at all the money we'd have to pay back on top of the rent we owed. We kept hanging on hoping that Congress would pass an RRF replenishment bill, but it didn't happen. While they didn't have flexibility in forgiving our rent, we were able to negotiate agreeing to leave by paying the landlord some of what we owed then rather than face an eviction and be sued personally as a guarantor. Don't have any bad feelings w/the landlord, they are decent people in a large organization that has already taken a big hit from COVID losses and didn't have authority or wiggle room in this case. As much as it sucks for us, some restaurants won't be nearly as lucky and will end up getting sued into bankruptcy because of this.

So about blaming Sen. Schumer, I absolutely do, and have every right to. He said funding is on the way for a long time, but all of a sudden when inflation jumped up to an all-time high and it looked like restaurants were back to normal, he made the political calculation that it was better optics to not include restaurants in a reconciliation package that was supposed to reduce the deficit. After all, the average person, like most that commented here probably thinks the government gave out too much funding to restaurants and they shouldn't get any more. Schumer absolutely had the votes if he wanted to - Manchin and Sinema were supportive of the RRF - both voted for the recent standalone bill to replenish it some months ago and Sinema was the lead sponsor, it was her baby.

If the RRF never came into existence in the first place, we would have certainly been better off; we would have been able to negotiate better with the landlord when it was the best time to (including when commercial personal liability protections were in place due to the NYC emergency order and when there was still flexibility in rent relief programs), and we would have made business decisions knowing there wasn't any funding coming. And as the last commenter said, it absolutely created an unfair advantage with some larger restaurants getting tons of funding while others got none. Anyways we are still hopeful for some sort of consolation government assistance. The somewhat brash note where we cast blame on our hometown Senator for not following through on his promises will hopefully make more people aware of what was going on behind the scenes with so many restaurants, including some others on our very block that are in similar situations. Thanks again and for all those that supported us, it is very much appreciated. We are looking forward to new opportunities with the concept. Stay tuned and feel free to reach out anytime.
- zack@aobowl

Anonymous said...

How much money did they give to Ukraine? How much money was given out to prop up the airlines? How much was given out to the banks to bail them out during the mortgage crisis? Why can't our govnt help out actual small business? Cause they're politicians, they don't care about the small mom n pops?

Anonymous said...

I just read two of the lengthy responses from Zach and wish to respond in a sincere way. Assigning blame to one person such as Schumer or anyone really at this juncture won't help your cause. Cowards such as Rand Paul and other GOP's refused to step up and support the bill, which was and still is an atrocity to humanity during a global health crisis. I replied earlier to this post the other day. I waited tables at a west village restaurant to supplement my income while sifting through the impossible, over saturated job market, the very restaurant I worked in which was forced to close after being in business for twenty years, which was also relying on these very funds to come through, which clearly it didn't. It went to larger restaurant groups. Smaller owned and independent restaurants were completely ignored and neglected, which is unforgivable, since they are the bread and butter in a place like NYC. My former boss doesn't believe they will receive funding from this fund. And why would they? The place is gone and shut down. As a result of their decision, they filed for bankruptcy, and are actually happy and relieved to move on from the industry. A fresh new start. Many are doing it as an alternative. There is no oversight to determine who is entitled to what with these appropriated funds. Obviously, there is corruption and favoritism at play in this situation. Why were the airlines, Wall Street and fortune 500 companies granted financial assistance/welfare when they didn't need it above other smaller companies? Politics! Given how the senate has to climb mountains to have anything passed even though they control as democrats should illustrate how unjust and unfair our political and social climate is. Any small feat seems like a victory. It is remarkable they were able to pass the revitalization fund to begin with. It is beyond frustrating to navigate our system as broken and complicated as it is. But what I have learned from observing as someone who studied psychology and writing/journalism during my undergraduate and graduate years, when something is irretrievably broken, there is no purpose in putting something back together. What's done is done. Our government should be torn down and put back together, piece by piece. One can hope. My advice: move on, let go, and find a new game. Don't marinate in the anger or resentment for too long. Perhaps take some time to reflect and figure out what is next, My best to you.

Anonymous said...

Restaurants are not the only small businesses, they're actually a fraction of small businesses. But somehow, with aggressive PR, they've managed to portray their industry as the biggest victims of the pandemic. Don't you think that tens of thousands of families facing evictions due to lack of funding to ERAP rental assistance is more important than restaurants, that many cannot afford anyway?

Anonymous said...

The government told Americans it was not safe to go to restaurants because it was not safe to go to restaurants! It’s Covid that shut them down.

Jacob Ford said...

brb making Schumer “I did that” stickers