Local Restaurant Owners Chart a New Course on Jefferson Street

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Les Enfants de Bohème opened last summer at the corner of Jefferson and Henry streets. Photos by Lindsey Ellefson.

This story was written by Lindsey Ellefson, a Lower East Side-based reporter. The Lo-Down welcomes contributions from community members. Submissions should be sent to: tips@thelodownny.com.

Anyone who has walked down Jefferson Street lately has undoubtedly noticed some changes. The street is small, stretching from East Broadway to Madison Street, disappearing for a few blocks, then reappearing between Cherry and South streets. Until recently, the mini thoroughfare packed a comparably mini-punch, but a Jefferson Street transformation is underway.

Some old haunts remain alongside the newer businesses popping up and, in some cases, the old and new are merging. Cafe Petisco (189 East Broadway) is situated right at the top of the street and was for a long time the only full service restaurant in the immediate area. Iguazu Cafe, on the other hand, has been situated between Madison and Henry streets for the last few years but was more popular for takeout and quick lunches, according to co-owner Allen Cheng. It has been undergoing massive renovations and is set to relaunch as a sit-down family restaurant.

Cheng is eager to talk about the changes that Iguazu will see, though he’s also quick to point out that his son Edwin is overseeing much of the redesign, which includes the acquisition of a wine and beer license. The older Cheng is Buddhist, which means he is less involved in the alcoholic aspects of Iguazu’s menu overhaul, but he has plenty to do himself now that he’s repurposed the space on the southwest corner of Henry and Jefferson.

That property long served as a warehouse for a wholesale business, but, under Cheng’s supervision, is slowly but surely morphing into a community grocery and snack spot.

“Before, I would never, ever do retail,” he explained. “It used to only be wholesale in this location, but we’ve been able to change it recently.”

Those changes include bringing in a small buffet and a few sets of tables and chairs, rebranding the space as “Deli Corner,” and serving up healthy meals like veggie burgers alongside retail offerings.

What’s the the best part of owning two businesses on Jefferson Street?  It’s the simple fact, Cheng answered, that “more people will focus on the area.” He went on to say that he’s seen an influx of new people around, which he attributes to rising rent everywhere north of the immediate neighborhood. Before, it seemed to him that those unfamiliar with the surrounding streets were uneasy about visiting the Lower East Side below East Broadway.

“Now, we can aim at people who want to sit down and have a glass of wine with dinner instead of just eating,” he explained. “We never thought it was possible!”

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Allen Cheng.

Across from Deli Corner, on the northwest side of the intersection of Henry and Jefferson, another business was born of the same idea.

Stefan Jonot opened Les Enfants de Bohème (177 Henry St.) last June and, like Cheng, has plenty of goals for his properties. The restaurant is a chic French bistro that caters to the wining, dining crowd Cheng is wooing.

Jonot and Cheng differ in one very notable way, however. Where Cheng has been in business on Jefferson Street for some time already, Jonot, who lives in the Seward Park Co-op on East Broadway, chose to bring his restaurant there because of its newness to him as a dining destination.

“It’s not on the map,” said Jonot, who formerly operated Canal Street’s much-missed Les Enfants Terribles prior to its closing. “I don’t like to be on the map! I want people to make the effort to come here.”

Now that he has recently launched a small coffee and bake shop next to the bistro, he’s more likely than ever to entice people over to Jefferson Street. Known as Les Enfants Délice, the little shop serves up organic espresso, baguette sandwiches, ice cream, crêpes and more.

Les Enfants Délice might be pretty small, but there is community seating outside that was made available by Jonot in partnership with the Department of Transportation. The parking spots on Jefferson in front of Les Enfants de Bohème were transformed into a public space, complete with tables and flowers at Jonot’s behest. Anyone can relax there, whether they or not they’ve purchased food from one of the surrounding restaurants.

While both men have made great strides in their businesses over the last year, Cheng insisted that there is no competition between them. He was happy to report that he and Jonot both want the same thing, which is to see Jefferson Street become a destination for families and diners.

In fact, Cheng said the one thing he’d really love to see is Jefferson transformed into a real community hub. His eyes lit up when he shared his vision of one day having weekend block parties that stretch from Jefferson to Rutgers and East Broadway to Madison. With his veggie burgers, Jonot’s ice cream, and the sit-down dining experience that will be offered by both of them soon enough, that dream could very well become a reality.