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The Ex-Villagers | Out in Long Island, the Living Is Easy

The Ex-Villagers: they loved the East Village and left it. Mara Levi closed her East Sixth Street restaurant last year. With the Long Island outpost of Mara’s Homemade now a year old, we checked in to see how she’s doing.

IMG_1666Lauren Carol Smith Mara Levi at the new Mara’s Homemade in
Syosset, N.Y.

When the building that occupied our Union Square coffeehouse, Java N Jazz, was sold and all the tenants were asked to leave we started looking for a new space in the neighborhood, for a new type of restaurant. We found one, but lost out when a celebrity chef also started negotiations for it. The search started again and we found a place in the East Village. We opened there a month after Java N Jazz closed.

The space was not ideal. We were forced out in three months, but were lucky to find another location three doors down. The rent was $5,000 a month for 750 square feet. With the failing of the first location we had changed our focus to the foods of New Orleans. We started out with the basics: jambalaya, shrimp Creole, etouffee, and of course the live crawfish boil.

The customers started coming and requested dishes they had eaten at Jazz Fest. My husband was waiting tables and I was in the kitchen. He would describe dishes and I would prepare them and the customers would tell me if I was on the mark. Then we’d add them to the menu.

My husband has a love for barbecue; he found a smoker that would fit in the kitchen and we started serving Arkansas barbecue. The neighborhood took a liking to what we were doing. Read more…

Mara’s Homemade is Enjoying Life in Suburbia

Mara's HomemadeElizabeth Vulaj The old East Village location

Back in April, Mara Levi touched off quite a bit of commenter chatter when she claimed that a lack of parking (caused by a newly installed bike lane) contributed to the closure of her East Sixth Street restaurant, Mara’s Homemade. In May, Ms. Levi opened a new location of the restaurant in Syosset, Long Island. So how’s life with a parking lot? Quite good, Ms. Levi said yesterday. In fact, she said she would probably not return to the East Village.

“You can’t do lunch, and it’s very expensive,” she explained. “I was paying Madison Avenue prices and not having the accessibility of that many people.” She said she had been offered a “much better location where I could do lunch” on the Upper East Side, at one third of the rent of her small East Village storefront. (Ms. Levi said she was not opposed to returning to the city: “If an opportunity comes along, we would consider it.”)

Meanwhile, the Nassau County resident is enjoying the perks of suburbia. Read more…

A Business Closes and Cites Bike Lanes

Mara's HomemadeElizabeth Vulaj The owner of Mara’s Homemade, who recently announced that the restaurant is closing its doors, cited bike lanes that were installed last summer as part of the reason that the restaurant saw a decline in business.

Taxes and the rent have gone up but Mara Levi mostly blames the bike lanes for having to close Mara’s Homemade, her authentic New Orleans-style restaurant on East Sixth Street near First Avenue. If the customers come from all over the tri-state area and even beyond, she said, a restaurant has to have parking.

Ms. Levi said that she now pays double for taxes than she did when she opened seven years ago, but that the addition of the bike lanes, which opened in July and reduced the number of available street parking spaces, have significantly contributed to the business’ decline.

“We saw a drop in business the day those lanes came in,” said Ms. Levi. “When you go from twelve parking spaces per block to three, that makes a difference.”

In January, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg conceded that city officials should have notified residents when they decided to install the lanes. Levi said she was not even aware of any plans until one evening, where she saw construction workers toiling away on First Avenue.

“One night we come out, and they were marking lanes and paving,” said Ms. Levi. “It was a total surprise. There was no input from the community and it upset me a lot.”
Read more…