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HARLEM—It wasn’t long ago that it looked like soul food in Harlem was in trouble. Stalwarts like M&G’s Diner, Copeland’s and Louise’s all shut down within a year or so of one another.
Some blamed a gentrifying Harlem, others thought a new awareness and focus on health issues like high blood pressure and obesity led to the decline.
But soul food is now alive and well in Harlem thanks to its connection to the African-American culture that makes Harlem a top tourist destination. Along the way, some restaurants have developed their own take on soul food and some of the stalwarts have changed with the times.
“Restaurants like Red Rooster have reinterpreted soul food so we now have more options. Before, you only had traditional options like fried chicken and fried chicken with fried chicken,” said Nikoa Evans-Hendricks, a founder of Harlem Park to Park, a business alliance that includes several restaurants that cook soul food or a variation thereof.
At celebrity chef Marcus Samuelsson’s restaurant — named after a famous Harlem speakeasy— he serves many southern classics with a twist. The fried chicken is fried yard bird with a white mace gravy. The macaroni and cheese is made with Gouda cheese. There’s cornbread but you can get it with tomato jam. It’s his take on comfort food.
“They are taking food that is traditional to us and approaching it differently,” said Nikoa-Evans.
By Jeff Mays
Harlem’s path to gentrification has brought chain stores, celebrity chef-led restaurants, gourmet grocery stores and high-priced condos in a steady march uptown.
But unlike other city neighborhoods, where Pinkberry, Tasti D-Lite, and Red Mango shops are scattered on every other block, Harlem’s fro-yo selection was scarce to nonexistent. A Google search of yogurt shops in Harlem brought up nothing but Baskin-Robbins and Dunkin’ Donuts stores.
That’s about to change, as husband and wife frozen yogurt enthusiasts Jason and Tiffany Martin have opened what they believe to be the first stand-alone, self-service frozen yogurt shop in Harlem, Chill Berry, on Lenox Avenue between West 130 and 131st streets.
Some people tried to dissuade the couple from opening in the neighborhood, saying the shop was a bad idea.
“They said: ‘You are opening a frozen yogurt shop in Harlem? It won’t last,'” said Jason Martin, 37, an entrepreneur previously involved in the printing and music business.
On Wednesday, the shop received a steady flow of foot traffic, with grateful customers approaching the Martins to thank them for slashing their former fro-yo commute.
Read more about the new frozen yogurt shop in Harlem from DNAinfo:
by Amanda Kludt
Just over a year ago, Village soul food spot The Pink Tea Cup was threatened with extinction, and now it’s expanding to Harlem.
Last year, when the over 50 year-old restaurant closed due to high rents and slow business, local restaurateur and owner of the Actor’s Playhouse Lawrence Page stepped in. He bought the trademark from the owners, hired one of their chefs, and reopened the Tea Cup a couple of blocks away from the original restaurant. Now he’s opening a branch up on Lenox and 120th Street, right across from local favorite Settepani and blocks away from Marcus Samuelsson’s soul food restaurant Red Rooster.
He originally planned on calling the place the Pink Heifer—due to a partnership with charity Heifer International—but the community disapproved, because “Heifer is often used as a derogatory slang term for a woman.” So Pink Tea Cup it is! The restaurant will hold 29 tables and will feature an upstairs lounge that will be open all day. Down the road Page plans on opening a Moroccan-themed bar nearby.
Read more about the new restaurant in Harlem from Eater NY.
by Jeff Mays
HARLEM— When they were kids growing up on the Lower East Side, Dave Hom and Dave Chan didn’t venture uptown much.
“I drove past the Apollo Theater once,” Chan 34, said. “I never even really went to Midtown.”
But when they were looking for a place to open up their new Hawaiian and Japanese Barbecue restaurant, Makana, East Harlem seemed like a logical choice. Rents are lower than in Central Harlem and the restaurant seemed like it would stand out.
“This area is saturated with a lot of pizza, Cuchifrito and Chinese takeout joints,” Hom said. “We wanted to bring sushi and variety to a neighborhood where there isn’t a lot.”
That is beginning to change in East Harlem. In December, a group of restaurants banded together to put together a “Taste Trolley” tour of 18 East Harlem eateries. The cuisine ranged from Mexican to a steakhouse.
“As the population and face of the community has changed, we have seen a mushrooming of various eateries,” said Kevin Walters, head of the East Harlem Restaurant and Bar Association and owner of Creole, which is located on Third Avenue between East 118th and East 119th streets.
Still, Walters estimates that 97 percent of his customers come from outside of the neighborhood.
“When we opened 7 years ago we thought there was an opportunity to be a big fish in a little bowl. We’re still waiting for the community to catch up to us,” said Walters.
Since opening in August, Makana, situated in a former Chinese takeout storefront on First Avenue between East 115th and East 116th streets, still gets the occasional customer looking for chicken wings and fried rice. But they’ve offered those customers familiar dishes like barbecue ribs and chicken teriyaki.
That has led Hom and Chan to gradually begin introducing their customers to Hawaiian treats such as Spam Musubi — seasoned rice with Spam on top wrapped in seaweed. Chan calls it the “peanut butter and jelly of Hawaii.” Loco Moco, white rice topped with a hamburger patty and a fried egg, is another Hawaiian favorite.
Boris Roques, a 23-year-old from Paris who recently moved to New York, stopped by one afternoon because roommates and friends recommended the restaurant.
“If you like Mexican food it’s perfect here. It’s hard to find the variety of food here like downtown,” Roques said. “Everybody is talking about this place because it shows the type of variety we could have in the future.”
Hom and Chan have always wanted to work together. Both spent time living out West — Hom in California and Chan in Seattle — where Japanese and Hawaiian cuisine is more common. After a career in marketing, Chan decided to return to the family business — his family has owned a Chinese takeout restaurant for 30 years. Hom comes to the restaurant field after working in marketing.
The pair keep things light at the restaurant, constantly joking about needing dates. Hom is the straight man and Chan is the comedian.
“It’s great to come into a new neighborhood and ask what’s missing and how can we add value,” Hom said.
“Actually, we got into this for the ladies,” Chan said.
Makana is Chan’s third restaurant. In addition to the family takeout, more than three years ago he opened L.E.S. Sushi on Grand Street.
Chan said opening Makana has been similar to his experience with L.E.S. Sushi.
“We just felt that East Harlem had that energy like the Lower East side,” said Chan. “We looked at this venture sort of like surfing; you want to get in when the wave is developing.”
Read more and check out the slideshow from DNAinfo.