Non-Kosher Diner Chosen for Noah’s Ark Space

The Comfort Diner, a Midtown restaurant, will take over the space at 399 Grand St.

The Comfort Diner, a Midtown restaurant, will take over the space at 399 Grand St.

After months of behind-the-scenes wrangling over the choice of a tenant for the former Noah’s Ark Deli space, Seward Park Co-op’s directors voted 7 to 4 last night to award the lease to Comfort Diner, a Midtown restaurant that is not kosher.

Though choosing a restaurant to take over the vacancy at 399 Grand St. may seem like a routine business decision by a landlord, it had become a political minefield over the last several months, generating debate about whether the co-op had a responsibility to replace Noah’s Ark with another kosher restaurant to serve the neighborhood’s dwindling Orthodox Jewish population. Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver directly involved himself, personally calling members of the co-op’s board to lobby them to support an application from the owners of fast-food operation Holy Schnitzel, who had outlined a business plan for a kosher restaurant.

Last night’s vote means that the commercial strip lining the south side of Grand Street between Essex and Clinton streets will gain a new dining option in a space that’s been empty since last fall. Noah’s Ark closed for the Jewish holidays and did not reopen; Seward Park Co-op eventually evicted the restaurant for failure to pay more than six figures in long-overdue rent.

Comfort Diner, which has operated at 214 E. 45th St. for nearly 20 years, boasts a menu of “good home cooking, quick service and popular prices” that features “both classic and new comfort food.” The deal includes a 10-year lease with a five-year option; renovations are expected to begin as soon as the ink is dry.

“It’s not just the financials, but the overall package,”  Frank Durant, the co-op’s general manager, said this morning. “Their plan for that space was a good one for the majority of the community. This guy wants to make it a family-friendly, neighborhood-friendly place.”

Comfort Diner will have seasonal sidewalk seating and be a good gathering spot for the whole neighborhood, Durant said. Its owner will be much more present, locally, than the owners of Noah’s Ark, whose flagship business was in New Jersey, he said.

The co-op still hopes to find a place for Holy Schnitzel’s kosher proposal, possibly in another storefront space it owns that is expected to come available early next year, Durant said.

Both board members and members of the management team spent many months recruiting kosher establishments as options, Durant said, citing outreach to community groups and religious leaders. “The board anguished over this decision, and we really did try our best,” he said.

The board’s vote was a direct rejection of the wishes of Silver, whose use of political influence to stall the redevelopment of the Seward Park Urban Renewal Area was the subject of a lengthy and unflattering investigative piece in the New York Times last week. Reviewing four decades of records documenting the relationship between Silver and protege William Rapfogel, who faces criminal charges in a scheme involving the Metropolitan Council on Jewish Poverty, the Times concluded: “A primary focus of their alliance had been the struggle to preserve the Jewish identity of the neighborhood.”

Noah's Ark was evicted last fall after failing to pay more than $100,000 in back rent.

Noah’s Ark was evicted last fall after failing to pay more than $100,000 in back rent.

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  • david

    I like the outdoor seating. Will they have beer and wine?

  • Peter J

    Great news for the neighborhood. A rare decision by the Seward Park board that makes sense. The vast majority of the neighborhood wants and will make regular use of a place like this: a real diner in a large space (why did the good folks at Zafi’s let this opportunity pass by?). …And yes, we should ALSO have a great Kosher place, preferably something modern and tasty that everyone can enjoy. There’s no reason why we can’t have both, and it sounds like they’re working on that for early next year.

  • Adam D Wolf

    This is long over due. I have never seen Noah’s ark full of patrons, nor have I seen anyone eating there that was not clearly Jewish. I have ate there but a few times since it opened, and the staff was ultra rude and it felt like they went out of their way to make us feel uninvited. I always wondered how this place stood open and turned any profit since the only cater to a small part of this diverse neighborhood. I guess a $100,000 in back rent answers that question. Adios Noah’s Ark!

  • Maria-LES

    I don’t understand how they managed to get away with owing so much money. I’m glad another restaurant will be opening for business. My dad worked for Noah’s Ark before they abruptly closed. The wages they paid were very low and even began charging my fathers tips as part of the salary. Bad thing my dad lost his job however good thing the neighborhood will have a diner that caters to everyone. The overpriced meals were bland and expensive.

  • Joseph Hanania

    The new restaurant sounds excellent, especially the outdoor seating which is all too rare in this neighborhood. Finally, we have a nice place in addition to Zafi’s at which to eat. Question: why doesn’t the east part of Grand Street also have a restaurant/bakery with outdoor seating?

  • Irene

    Have been going to Comfort Diner uptown for years. So happy that it’s coming to my ‘hood. Good decision Seward.