Neighbors and sandwich shop clash over liquor license in Chelsea



La Sandwicherie, the new sandwich shop at 239 W. 15th Street. Photo by Klara Bauters

A new French sandwich shop in Chelsea, La Sandwicherie, is contending with open hostility from some of its neighbors, with over 40 people having signed a petition urging the local community board to resist the establishment’s application for a liquor license.

The shop at 239 W. 15th St., which opened in September, is the owners’ third New York establishment. The menu features French baguettes, including the popular Parisien with Paris ham, arugula, Brie cheese, mayo and tomatoes. The shop also sells a variety of French groceries that are hard to find in the United States, such as charcuterie and special sauces.

The owners want to expand their offerings to include beer and wine, but they’re meeting resistance. Teresa Hicks, a resident of the building for 33 years, worries that a liquor license will transform the shop into a full-fledged bar.

“They will turn it into a bar the moment they receive the license,” Hicks said. “Why else? They didn’t request a liquor license for the other two stores.”

Frustrated neighbors have brought their complaints to Community Board 4, which at first stopped short of opposing the liquor license, but rather gave the shop owners a chance to revisit the issue in exchange for installing ventilation and soundproofing the neighbors want. Instead, the shop went ahead with its application to the State Liquor Authority.

On October 4, the community board sent a letter to the authority urging it to deny the application.

Massire Diawara, one of the owners, is puzzled by the opposition, especially given the French habit of pairing wine and beer with sandwiches.

“It’s part of French culture to drink some wine or beer with your sandwich,” Diawara said. “It costs us more than $20,000 to apply for a liquor license because we also have to pay our lawyer. As immigrants, we have a lot to lose just to please our clients.”

He said he plans to apply for liquor licenses for his other stores in a few years when he has the money. For now, Chelsea seemed the most suited to the idea.

Laurent d’Antonio immigrated from France 18 years ago to start a food truck serving French sandwiches, where fellow Frenchman Diawara once worked. They had parked it near McCarren Park in Greenpoint when local resident Daron Yemini, a real estate investor, visited the cart and suggested they team up to open a storefront, according to a published report in Greenpointers. La Sandwicherie is their third outpost, with the other two situated at 156 Driggs Ave. in Greenpoint and at 217 E. 85th St. on the Upper East Side.

The other two sandwich shops close at 6 p.m., but the owners want to extend their business hours at the new location to 10 p.m. The community board has pushed back, setting the hours of operation from Wednesday to Saturday at 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., and the remaining days from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m.

The discontent of some residents extends beyond the liquor license issue. Hicks said the shop’s construction work shut down the building’s hot water.

“I have been taking cold showers for a month now,” Hicks said.

Steve Starosta, head of the block association, also voiced concern about the liquor license because it could set a precedent for the property’s future. He worries that the moment the State Liquor Authority grants a license, every business located there in the future could get one.

A liquor license would likely drive up the rental price of the space, making it unattractive to future tenants if they don’t operate a bar, said Starosta.

Hicks is also concerned about a food shop of any kind in the building because it already has issues with rats and cockroaches. She fears the shop will only attract more vermin.

Community Board 4 has also said the space lacks proper ventilation for food preparation.

Hicks said that could mean the smell of food will permeate the building.

Another major concern raised is the anticipated increase in noise, especially when compared to the previous store, which was an optometrist’s office. But Yemini, the co-owner, said a sound study is unnecessary despite the neighbors’ concerns.

“We have a very small speaker and we’d love for you to come in and hear the volume of the music and if in any way it’s disturbing to the neighbors, please let us know,” he said at the community board meeting. There’s been no problem at his other locations, he said.

“We don’t want problems with the neighbors, we want to be a friend over there,” Mitchell Segal, the owners’ liquor license attorney, told the community board.