Todd English food hall faces a wary Chelsea



Todd English is trying to bring his Plaza food hall concept to Chelsea. Photo: Rohini Chaki.

As happy hour rolls into dinnertime at the Todd English food hall in the basement of the Plaza Hotel, hosts bustle about, talking into headsets, with the busyness and bearing of stage managers on Broadway. Diners sit around high marble tables, clinking cocktail glasses and enjoying an array of options, from pizza and pasta to dumplings and lobsters. The space feels more like a restaurant than the millennial food halls cropping up all over the city. And if the celebrity chef at the helm has his way, Chelsea will soon have its own Todd English food hall.

Todd English Enterprises submitted a proposal to Manhattan Community Board 4 in late August to secure a liquor license for 191 Seventh Avenue.  On September 12, the chef appeared before the CB4 business licenses and permits committee meeting to explain the concept and answer questions.  But the company has since asked CB4 for a postponement until November to address stipulations, before the community board sends a letter of recommendation to the State Liquor Authority.

The CB4 application for a liquor license involves outlining hours of operation, proximity to other establishments that serve alcohol, planned use of music, and whether a rooftop or sidewalk would be utilized – elements that might raise quality of life concerns among neighbors about noise and rowdiness. “We put our letters in the form of ‘denial unless all stipulations agreed to by applicant/owner are part of the method of operation.’” said BLP committee member Burt Lazarin. “Usually they agree to it and sign on it at the BLP meeting. Those stipulations are typically incorporated into their method of operation and liquor license. If they don’t follow the stipulations, they are in violation of the license.”

“They may be having internal discussions about viability,” he said.

The proposed Chelsea location was formerly occupied by Il Bastardo, an Italian restaurant that lost its liquor license and had to shut down after repeated complaints from community residents about drunken and disorderly behavior from patrons, who, according to previous media reports, engaged in bar fights, danced to loud DJ music, and spilled out onto the sidewalk, occasionally leaving it covered in vomit. After Il Bastardo shut down, celebrity chef Kristin Sollenne and her husband, Robert Malta, a stakeholder in the former restaurant, wanted to take over the space and divide the location into two eateries. In July, the community board denied her an SLA recommendation, adamant that nobody associated with Il Bastardo be allowed to operate in that space.

“We would be taking over the lease for the space from the current leaseholders and the dilemma right now is that CB4 is trying to determine whether or not we’re associated with the previous owners, who still have the lease for another nine years,” said Flip Arbelaez, director of restaurant development and COO of Todd English Enterprises. The location has approximately 5700 square feet of usable space, while Todd English at the Plaza is almost 19,000 square feet, said Arbelaez. American Market, another English food hall slated to open late this year in Jared Kushner’s Times Square retail space has an 11,700 square foot footprint.

Why the interest in a much smaller operation? “Because there is a relationship there between our CFO, Joe Korbar, and Kristin Sollenne. Kristin is a TV personality, just like Todd, and that relationship was established long before they even established Il Bastardo,” said Arbelaez. “We were able to negotiate a lease program with them where we could take over the lease, legally, once we have the blessing of the community board. Once we get that blessing, we’re transferring that lease as fast as we can pull a pizza out of the oven.”

“I’m sure that Kristin Sollenne would at some point want some involvement with the company,” he said, “whether she takes up an employment program with us, or does not. But these are things we’re trying to disclose to the community board right now.”

Alamgir, who declined to give his last name, owns the A&A Deli on the same block. “It’s very sad why the place lost their liquor license,” he said of Il Bastardo. “It’s not anybody’s fault that customers were drinking and having bar fights inside.”

“Il Bastardo was vehemently opposed and hated,” said Lazarin. “When Todd English came before us in September, there was nobody really in opposition, in fact, someone spoke in their favor from the community.” He mentioned that the community wants to avoid the “bottomless brunches” with copious alcohol that Il Bastardo served. English has proposed daily closing hours of Monday through Saturday at 11 p.m. and Sunday at 10 p.m.

Tarek Alam, a principal stakeholder at Il Bastardo, also has a partnership stake at the two eateries adjacent to the Il Bastardo space. He feels slighted by CB4 and the community. “I am bankrupt. I have loans of over $1.7 million that I now need to figure out how to pay. I was doing very good business but the state just shut down the space,” he said. He isn’t worried that the Todd English food hall would take business away from his two nearby places  – Pecorino, a pizzeria, and Lime Jungle Empanadas, a Mexican restaurant. “I’ve been in this business in New York City for 25 years, I have a lot of locations. My business will be alright,” he said.

Beatrice Stein, an NYC-based restaurant consultant, is optimistic about the food hall trend in the city, and spoke approvingly of Todd English’s Plaza operation. “Whenever I go to the Paris movie theater across the street, I’ll go there because it’s convenient and there aren’t a lot of places to eat in that immediate neighborhood,” she said. “There’s lots of variety, you can sit down and if somebody wants a burger, and somebody else wants a salad, and somebody wants sushi – they can all get that. It appeals to everyone, that’s why it does so well.”

Recently, Todd English was named in a sexual harassment lawsuit filed against the Plaza Hotel by current and former female employees. The NY Daily News reported on October 4 that the lawsuit, filed in August, was amended to include the charge that an intoxicated English had, in May, groped an employee against her consent. “I certainly could imagine the pending lawsuit alleging sexual harassment entering into the conversation about the applicant for the Il Bastardo space,” wrote Lazarin over email.

“It’s a false allegation and will soon be discredited,” said Arbelaez.