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“Gracias Mama” Team Wins a Round at CB3, But Liquor Permit Battle Isn’t Over Yet

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162 East Broadway.
162 East Broadway.

A proposal for a Mexican restaurant called Gracias Mama at 162 East Broadway won the support last night of the Community Board 3 panel that evaluates liquor licenses. But opponents of the new business are hoping a measuring stick is their best weapon in persuading the State Liquor Authority to downgrade the permit to beer/wine only.

Nima Garos (of the Little Italy spot Kelso & Grand) and Koorosh Bakhtiar are preparing to open a 45-seat taqueria. The restaurant would have a service window and be open beginning at 7 a.m. for breakfast and lunch, as well as dinner. A gut renovation of a former Chinese bakery and newsstand is well underway.

While the SPaCE Block Association worked out stipulations with the owners, including reduced operating hours, other neighborhood activists have balked at the plan for a full bar. The Orchard Street Block Association, Residents of Two Bridges (ROTB) and LES Dwellers argue that the area is becoming too over saturated with nightlife establishments. They believe a bull bar would be in violation of a state law – the 200 Foot Rule, which “prohibits certain licenses from being issued if the location of the establishment is on the same street and within 200 feet of a building that is used exclusively as a school, church, synagogue or other place of worship.” St. Teresa’s Church is located at 16-18 Rutgers St., one block away at Henry Street. It will be up to the State Liquor Authority to decide if the new restaurant is l more or less than 200 feet from the church.

Some residents testifying last night lamented the loss of mom-and-pop businesses and ethnic stores. They accused the applicants of failing to reach out in multiple languages to the mostly immigrant community in the immediate area. CB3 Chairperson Gigi Li questioned the owners about the following statement, which was part of their original application: “We are also aiming to improve a dilapidated part of the neighborhood and reinvigorate the whole corner on East Broadway.”  It was removed from later versions of the application.  Last night, they claimed never to have used those words (they called them a ‘fabrication’). You can see the relevant excerpt from their questionnaire here:

Screen Shot 2016-03-15 at 12.45.17 PM
Excerpt from the applicants’ original application.

The building, 162 East Broadway, was sold by Chinese owners this past December for $6.6 million. Last night, the applicants stated that the bakery and newsstand had been on month-to-month leases, but were not pushed out. The new property owners (or at least one of the property owners) also owns the Grand Street building in Little Italy in which Kelso & Grand, is located.

There were 17 speakers last night, many of them testifying in favor of the proposal. Some of them are loyal customers of the Little Italy restaurant, which they described as well run and family oriented. Others said they’re looking forward to a high quality Mexican restaurant in the neighborhood. Amy Robinson, who lives nearby, told committee members she’s enthusiastic about having a nighttime establishment alongside the F train stairwell, which can be a dangerous area in the evenings.

The committee approved operating hours of 7 a.m.-midnight during the week, with an extra hour on weekends. The committee’s recommendation will be revisited by the full board later in the month.

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