Like dog years, restaurant years in New York are a multiple of human years. A restaurant that stays in business for a quarter century has lived the equivalent of many lifetimes.
Now, one such iconic eatery, B. Smith, may be forced to close its doors. Opened in 1986 by fashion model and “lifestyle entrepreneur” Barbara Smith, the Southern-inspired dining spot staked its claim in a neighborhood that, The Blaze.com writes, was “better known for junkies and hookers.”
Smith’s husband and business partner, Dan Gasby, recently told the New York Post, “What Barbara Smith accomplished on the Avenue of Lost Souls is nothing short of remarkable.” I am here to attest to the truth of that statement. At the time when B. Smith emerged on the scene, I was writing a weekly restaurant column for several New York weeklies, among them The Westsider, and the stretch of West 47th Street where she opened shop was about as desolate a block as you can imagine. Even after B. Smith relocated to larger quarters on Restaurant Row, it was a beacon to actors from the nearby Broadway theaters, especially black actors. As the Post notes:
B. Smith’s was where Denzel Washington read the script for the 1992 film ‘Malcom X,’ and where Robert De Niro held the opening party for his 1993 movie ‘A Bronx Tale.’
Regular diners included August Wilson, Danny Glover, Sidney Poitier, Luther Vandross, Aretha Franklin, Angela Bassett and Liza Minnelli.
Now, however, is faced with a dilemma. Local 1 of the stagehands guild, a union, runs the building she has leased for the last 11 years. With the lease due to expire in February, the union wants to increase the rent 350%— from around $13,500 a month to about $50,000, topping out at $60,000 a month within five years. Says the Post:
This enormous increase has many believing that the same union that saw its membership grow as a result in the popularity of the pre- and post-theater dining location is purposely muscling Smith out of the distinct.
If Smith is forced out, she has several other business endeavors she can fall back on, including restaurants in the Hamptons and Washington, D.C., a line of home products sold at Bed, Bath & Beyond, and a furniture line.
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