Eye On Real Estate: Famed seafood palace's franchise opens on Fifth Avenue
By Lore Croghan
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Nothing says Manhattan like Grand Central Terminal – and the Oyster Bar with its succulent seafood, which has brightened commuters' days for a century.
Are its charms transferable to Park Slope, to a block where there's no massive transportation hub nearby?
If anyone should know, it would be Jonathan Young, a former Sloper who now lives in Greenwood Heights. For a decade, he was the general manager of the famed oyster palace inside the famed train station. For starters, he knows not to try to create a clone of the original restaurant.
“It's an iconic piece of Americana,” he said. “If you try to exactly copy it, you're fooling yourself. You can't match it.”
He and business partner Bruce Fox are opening the first New York City franchise of Grand Central Oyster Bar this week at 254 Fifth Ave.
“We take the concept and size it down and fit it to the neighborhood,” Young said.
“Their basic forte is to get the freshest fish and the freshest oysters every day. If we do it right, we will run out of things by the end of the day.”
Their new location, which consists of three storefronts connected by fire doors, is just down the block from Park Slope's fine-dining mecca al di la.
Many years ago his landlord, the Scicchitano family, had a restaurant in the 5,000 square-foot space. The most recent occupant, Fornino, closed after just a few years in the location.
Young and Fox – who's the Oyster Bar's vice president of franchising – are set on sticking around for a long time, having signed a 15-year lease with a five-year extension. A 10-year lease is too short a time to pay off loans and make money, he said.
There will be 16 types of oysters available – eight from the East Coast, eight from the West – and three or four fish choices daily. They're cold-water oysters because there's less bacteria involved, Young said.
As a nod to Park Slope's legions of children, there will be pasta dishes on the menu and made-from-scratch fish sticks. Kids who want to try an oyster can have one for a quarter.
“We're not trying to be trendy. We're not trying to re-create the wheel,” he said. “We're not trying to have 10 million ingredients. If you have really fresh seafood it's sort of a waste to do too much with it.”
Young was looking for a site with a $25 to $30 per square foot rent. He got closest to that number at the Fifth Avenue triple-storefront site.
Near Barclays Center, rents for store fronts were $100 to $200 per square foot. In Williamsburg, they were $60 per square foot.
Actress Debi Mazar and her chef husband were negotiating for the Fifth Avenue space when Young and Fox came along.
He signed personal guarantees with the landlord, with liquor providers, you name it.
“That's why you have black bags under your eyes in this business,” he said.
He and Fox put a main dining room in one storefront and a bar and lounge in the second one. A fish market with a lobster tank and counter-top seating is in the third storefront.
Those who want to eat at home – and fear that if they do their own lobster cooking it'll be like a scene from “Annie Hall” – can call ahead and have the Oyster Bar steam take-out lobsters for them.
In the summer the staff will prep up “clam bakes in a pot” for customers to take home.
Their franchise operation is not alone. There are two Oyster Bar franchises in Tokyo – one of them in a train station – and a franchise at Newark Airport.