Eye On Real Estate: Waterfront Nabe's 'Like a Resort Community,' Home/Made's Monica Byrne Says
By Lore Croghan
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
The French toast made with brioche and sauteed apples, pears and dried cherries is terrific.
The income stream is not.
Van Brunt Street restaurant Home/Made was knocked flat by Hurricane Sandy and its owners have worked hard to recover, like so many small Red Hook commercial tenants. But thriving in this semi-industrial seaside village that has captured the public imagination — and the attention of investors with big bucks for property purchases — is harder than you might think.
“Our cash flow isn't sufficient to be open during the week,” said co-owner Monica Byrne.
She and her partner Leisah Swenson only serve brunch on Saturdays and Sundays at the café at 293 Van Brunt St.
They stopped serving dinner in November — after trying it out for a few months last year following the restaurant's post-hurricane reopening in January 2013. The sales volume just wasn't there. Lunch during the week doesn't make financial sense either.
New Yorkers are enamored of Red Hook, but they're Fair Weather Lovers, to borrow a phrase from country singer Dottie West.
“When the weather is nice, people come like it's a resort community. If we have a weekend of bad weather, no one wants to cross Hamilton Avenue,” Byrne said.
Part of the charm of Red Hook is that “people feel like, 'It's my discovery,'” she said. “It's inaccessible. Customers love that. But it's a challenge.”
For Home/Made, “catering is what keeps us alive,” she said.
“We always knew it would be slow to build a business in Red Hook.
“But eight years ago when we opened, we didn't bank on a recession, or a fire [which occurred in March 2012], or a hurricane. The fact we're standing at all feels like a huge accomplishment.”
Flooded-out Red Hook entrepreneurs spent a bundle on repairs.
“Everyone used their own resources to recover,” said Byrne, whose ground-floor restaurant was flooded with 34 inches of storm surge, with the basement inundated as well.
“Aid for small businesses is hugely entrenched in bureaucracy,” she said.
She's a founder of ReStore Red Hook, a group that raised $600,000 to help the neighborhood's small businesses recover from the killer storm.
She estimates that most storm-struck Red Hook businesses suffered $30,000 to $125,000 each in damage, not including lost revenues, Crain's New York Business reported.
Now, though, “we're all ready to make the shift from survival to being successful and revitalized,” she told Eye on Real Estate.
One cloud on the commercial tenants' horizon: The looming threat of rent hikes.
“Everyone is coming up on five-year or 10-year lease renewals,” she said.
“Everybody who invested blood, sweat and tears in Red Hook could find themselves dispossessed.”
Landlords in the neighborhood have raised the asking rents for vacant storefronts — see related story for the details. Maybe they'll remember the suffering that Hurricane Sandy caused their existing tenants and refrain from similarly steep increases with renewals?
“I'm a forever optimist,” Byrne said. “I'm always hoping for people to do the right thing.”