After 25 Years, Met Foods Changes Name, Brings Back a Piece of Ratner’s

metfoods2Daniel Maurer Original tilework from Ratner’s

The Met Foods on Second Avenue will soon be reborn as Metropolitan Citymarket, complete with photo murals paying tribute to Ratner’s and the Fillmore East. The new signage has already been installed, but it’s covered by a gigantic plastic tarp and won’t be unveiled until fall. That’s because N.Y.U., the building’s owner, is about to cast the store in the shadow of its scaffolding. But there’s something you can feast your eyes on in the meantime: original tilework from Ratner’s restaurant.

Michael Schumacher, who owns and manages the store with his brother Steven (their father, Sam, took it over in 1986), said the supermarket’s overhaul was long overdue. In 2004, he explained, he was told by N.Y.U. that the store’s lease wouldn’t be renewed, and its appearance went into decline. “They told us four years prior that we weren’t getting a lease in 2008, so it was the nail in the coffin,” he said.

But as stories in The Villager recounted, N.Y.U. eventually renewed the lease for 15 years after much public outcry and intervention from public officials (Mr. Schumacher said his rent was raised by 20 percent). That left the grocers free to revamp. In gutting the store, they found remnants of Ratner’s, the 24-hour dairy restaurant that once occupied the space. Its original tilework now gleams on either side of the front entrance.

METFOODS3Daniel Maurer The tarp.

Mr. Schumacher said he planned to plaster the front walls with blow-up photos of the Grateful Dead eating at Ratner’s as well as photos of the Fillmore East, which was once next door. “We take pride in having a historical site,” he said.

Meanwhile, the Met Foods sign has come down and has been replaced by signage touting the new store’s name, but Mr. Schumacher said he wouldn’t unveil it from underneath a green tarp until a grand opening after Labor Day. N.Y.U. is renovating its classrooms in the historic Saul Birns Building and will soon erect scaffolding that will obscure his signage in any case, said Mr. Schumacher.

metfoodsDaniel Maurer A peek at the new signage.

Though the sign will have to wait, the store’s stock has already changed to reflect a new focus on sustainable, organic, and specialty foods, on top of the usual goods. “This is what they’re gearing up, to give us a competitive edge,” said Mr. Schumacher of White Rose, the parent company of Met Foods and Metropolitan Citymarket. The White Rose Website notes that the new stores “target neighborhoods with changing populations and young fast-paced demographic groups.”

“Everybody puts a dent in our business,” said Mr. Schumacher as he unloaded boxes from a truck this morning. He specifically mentioned stores like Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s. “We’re competing against giants, but we have a good community base, good community support.” He said he was talking to Middle Collegiate Church, across the street, about offering discounts on food for the homeless. “We’re trying to build up enough revenue to support the seniors and N.Y.U. students that supported us, and Middle Collegiate Church that also helped us,” he said.