Harriet’s Kitchen, Which Once Served ‘The Best Burgers on the UWS’, Has Closed

Photo by Frazer Pennebaker.

By Carol Tannenhauser

Harriet’s Kitchen, the popular, hole-in-the-wall, takeout and delivery place on Amsterdam Avenue between 84th and 85th Streets, has closed.

“The Marshal was there on Monday with the landlord,” said Carmine Mitroni, owner of Celeste, the Italian restaurant next door. “The staff was crying. I don’t think they got much notice.”

The suddenness of the departure and the presence of a City Marshal suggest it might have been an eviction, but that is unconfirmed. Phone numbers associated with the restaurant have all been disconnected.

“The landlord said that Don (the owner) just couldn’t make it,” Mitroni said. “He was there for 32 years.”

The landlord, Francis Greenburger of Time Equities Inc., has not yet returned our call for confirmation.

Don is a “great guy” according to both his neighbors, but neither knew his last name. Jennifer Bergman, owner of West Side Kids, said she last saw him on Friday, the 8th, when she was coming back from a meeting with Council Member Helen Rosenthal on the plight of small businesses on the Upper West Side.

“Helen suggested we form an Amsterdam Avenue BID, so I stopped in to ask Don what he thought,” Bergman recalled. “He said, ‘Sure. Keep me posted.’

“It’s a real loss,” she continued. “Everyone’s really upset. People stop in front with their mouths agape. A guy working construction came by while I was outside and said, ‘My God, what happened? I was here a month ago and I’ve been thinking about their hamburgers ever since!’”

Photo by Carol Tannenhauser.

Harriet’s Kitchen’s burgers were called “the best on the Upper West Side” a decade ago by Eating in Translation. (Their chicken and cornbread were also great.)

Bergman thinks Harriet was Don’s grandmother.

“I’m so sad that he didn’t let anyone know,” she said. “Maybe we could have helped. I don’t know what happened, because he didn’t tell me — and we’re his neighbor! I don’t know what happened to his guys. His cooks were with him forever.”

When Bergman looked yesterday, “there were two guys inside pulling things out,” she said. “I asked, ‘What happened?’ One guy drew his hand across his throat.

“Another one bites the dust,” she said.

FOOD, NEWS, OPEN/CLOSED | 47 comments | permalink
    1. julian says:

      no way they weren’t able to succeed with $10 2-piece fried chicken specials and $13 pulled pork sandwiches….

      • Nola says:

        If 32 years of business on the ever changing UWS isn’t a success to you then I’d love to hear what you’ve achieved in your life.

      • Gloria says:

        My friend lost his dry cleaning business because his landlord told him his new lease would increase his rent to $13K a month and this was about 5 years ago. I imagine it’s more difficult now being a small business owner.

    2. chris woo says:

      I think his name is Don Berger

    3. erica bessette says:

      I tried their gazpacho over the summer and it was absolutely vile.

      • Think before posting, please says:

        Erica, do you always dance on people’s graves? As a reminder, just because you can type words out and click post quickly, doesn’t mean you should. Many people loved this place and even if you had one cup of subpar soup there, what is now left is another vacant hole on Amsterdam and people who lost their jobs.

        • Bob Lamm says:

          Well said, “think before posting….” Thank you.

        • Steven says:

          I agree, one should never get enjoyment in others misery. Think how you’d feel if that was you before posting nasty comments about others who are obviously going through a bad time.

      • tostonesfix says:

        Lovely, Erica. Go stand in line for Jacobs Pickles

    4. Sasha Charnin says:

      So sad. My thoughts are the landlord gets a tax write off for vacant space-so they’re heartless in this. The rent is beyond comprehension, so high, everything that’s actually great is close to gone. Pity.

      • Carnival Canticle says:

        Of course you can provide documentation for your assertion that high rent killed this business, can’t you? While I agree that rents for commercial property on the UWS may be prohibitive for many small businesses, and am in favor of commercial rent controls, there’s no indication in this article that this was the problem at Harriet’s. Please consider other possibilities: mediocre food; a smelly, ill-kept interior; disinterested service; incompetent management; nearby competition (a new chicken and burger place opened on Columbus/85th yesterday, and another is on its way a block away, while a chicken-oriented shop is supposed to be opening in the old Gastronomie space). Knee-jerk reactions are so easy, but that doesn’t make them accurate.

      • Woody says:

        How does a landlord get a tax write-off for vacant space? Walk me through the numbers and applicable tax laws.

      • Jay says:

        You would be incorrect that the landlord gets a tax write off.

        It is not in the landlord’s best interest to not have income.

      • your_neighbor says:

        Landlords do NOT get tax breaks for empty space. Landlord will pay less income tax because landlord is making less income.

        Same as if you decided to take a 6 month unpaid leave from work – you too would be paying less taxes. Would you consider that a tax break.

        From the story it looks like the burger joint didn’t pay rent for several months and had no intention of leaving until evicted and then wouldn’t voluntarily leave either.
        The tenant had to be physically removed from the space at considerable expense for the landlord. Bad tenant, probably stiffed their suppliers and employees too.

        • Paul L says:

          To say that Harriet’s kitchen was a bad tenant is laughable. It’s undisputed that he was at that location for 32 years, so obviously he paid his rent all those years. He didn’t suddenly have the desire to stiff the landlord. I read in this blog the Westside Books will use some of the money he got in the go fund me to pay back rent. Stores are behind in rent because business circumstances have changed in the UWS. From Amsterdam between 77th and 96th Street I counted about 50 stores that closed from 2015 to now. Nobody is saying landlords should not get paid, but circumstances have changed from the time people signed their leases and landlords should acknowledge

      • Sherman says:

        Your “thoughts” are wrong.

        A landlord does net get a “tax write off” for vacant space and I wish people would stop ranting about stuff they’re obviously ignorant about.

        Besides, there’s no evidence that a “heartless” landlord is the reason this business closed.

        • Brad Browne says:

          YOU are misinformed. I am a certified public accountant (CPA) and, as any GOOD CPA knows, a vacant storefront can be more valuable to a property owner than a leased one. There are numerous tax credits – not “write offs”- available at the local, state and federal levels.

          Please stop spreading misinformation. Thank you.

          • young man! says:

            Name one tax credit or incentive a property owner on the upper west side of Manhattan will get for keeping property empty.

            My real CPA doesn’t know of any.

            I’m calling BS.

          • Sherman says:

            I’m a CPA myself and a GOOD one.

            If you’re advising your landlord clients to keep their space empty because they will come out ahead financially due to some “tax credits” then you should have your CPA license taken away and be sued for malpractice.

    5. Nicole says:

      This is so sad, it was SUCH a good spot. What a shame.

    6. Beverly 81st says:

      The NYC Health department gave them a “C” for years and they refused to put the sign up!
      That is the reason they’re closed.

    7. Rafael says:

      The burgers were superb and it felt good going there because it seemed to be staffed by pleasant teenagers in front and longtime pros BOH.

      Business owners: update, innovate and invest to compete. Many, myself included, look forward to dining at “hole-in-the-wall” places with tasty food, such as Harriet’s, but it really needed to update its decor, at the very least have better window signage. Promotions, combo deals and lunch specials bring customers in. It was the same story with Caesar’s pizza. Both I will very much miss.

    8. Louis says:

      I had been going there for many years, but I stopped a few years ago. The last 2 times I ordered the fried chicken it was burned. There was only one person answering the phone, taking orders from walk-ins, plus doing all the cooking; so I didn’t complain, I just never went back.

      • Stuart says:

        Ordinarily, I am sad when when a small business closes, no matter what the reason for closing. However, our one experience 4 years ago with Harriet’s Kitchen was our only experience. We ordered through Seamless, which stated there was a 30 to 45 minute wait. After more than the alloted time had passed, we called and were told (without apology) that our order had “just left”. I mentioned to the employee that Seamless estimate must be incorrect, and she said “obviously”. More than an hour after ordering, our “meal” arrived, and it’s a mess. The gravy from the mashed potatoes had leaked all over the rest of the order, the sweet potato fries were no longer crispy, and the fried chicken was over-fried. Because of the attitude of the establishment’s employee, we called Seamless, who happily gave us a partial refund for our troubles.

    9. Sam says:

      We moved in about a block away, but we were always afraid to eat there. It had a C rating from the city.

    10. Brian says:

      How many idiots will petition to keep a Starbucks open and when this gem fades away forever. Horrible loss.

      I loved this place and it is the closest resemblance to a “chipper” found across Ireland and the UK that serves deliciously unhealthy burgers and chicken sandwiches.

      I am devastated.

      Maybe it will rise from the ashes in a new location.

    11. D-Rex says:

      Harriet was his aunt.

      Don in a great guy to chat with, a story for every occasion. And I liked the food too… Always nice to find a local place to support.
      Was planning to go for lunch on my holiday Monday, since he was only there during the day and I work too far away to visit unless I am off.

      I will miss our conversations, not every day you can find someone so able to converse on a wide range of subjects. Who else in NYC would know about the Heurich Brewery?

      My best wishes to Don and his staff.

    12. Gloria Evans says:

      We ordered often when I lived nearby on Columbus & 90th St. Once my granddaughter was old enough we would order for her the roast chicken with the sides and their chocolate cake. We all enjoyed Harriet’s for so many years and we were never disappointed. It’s unfortunate that those left in the neighborhood will longer be able to. I still remember the bakery on the corner of 86th St & Amsterdam Ave, Mrs. Grimbel’s Cheesecake Store on Columbus Avenue and Williams BBQ between 86 & 85th Streets and Broadway. So many more great places that made the Upper Westside a wonderful place and they’ve been disappearing for about the last 40 years due to increasing rent prices. The Upper West Side vibe has changed not for the better yet not bad either it all depends on the individual.

    13. Lord Of The Slice says:

      oooo, I hope a CVS or Bank move in!!
      we’re seriously deficient in these types of businesses!

    14. Lon Meltzer says:

      If I remember correctly, the owner was a bartender at Marvin’s Garden at Broadway and 82nd.

    15. Jenny Nelson says:

      The closing of Harriet’s KItchen is so sad. I have been a loyal customer, ordering almost once a week, for as long as I have lived in New York – 30+ years. I loved their burgers (still the best on the UWS), Caesar Salads (didn’t like the change to Kale, but still best dressing),and their Key Lime Pie. This is a sad day for Upper West Siders. Don, his food, and his staff will be sorely missed.

    16. Nic says:

      So sad to hear this . Nicest man !!! Would always order food from Harriet’s to the Dublin House or send business his way .

    17. Jenny Nelson says:

      Just to add to my previous comment – I can’t believe I forgot this – their pot pie was hands down the best anywhere!!! Shame on that landlord for not giving this UWS institution more time. I certainly would have donated money to help them like we did for the bookstore on Broadway.

    18. Edith says:

      It is so weird! And extremely sudden. What is especially weird about it is that just last weekend I went to take some pics of places that are still here long time. And Harriet’s was one of them! There was no idea among the staff, it seemed, of any problems. Then I hear just a few days later that it is permanently closed.

    19. Steven says:

      It always makes me sad when I hear a story like this. Imagine something that was your life for 32 years suddenly being ripped out from under you. Obviously he had personal issues he didn’t take care of. Speaking from experience, sometimes when things get too overwhelming, we make bad decisions or don’t handle things we knew we need to in the right way. I’m sorry to hear that this owner had a 32 year old business end for him in this way.

    20. Leigh Ann says:

      Thank you for this story. I’m glad to learn more about what happened. It was the nicest staff and that little homemade sign about “Maybe just the best burger in Manhattan” in the window got me to try it years ago and it was always my favorite. What a shame.

    21. UWS Craig says:

      The solution is obvious. Vacant storefront tax. If not paid seize the property.

    22. Paul says:

      Wow! Some of you people I would not want I to be in a foxhole with. The man lost his store, served the uws community for 32 years, obviously gave so
      Much to the area in those years as far as jobs, etc and all I hear is about how the store smelled and it failed a few health inspections? Yes, the new stores are more immaculate like sweet greens, etc but they are run like a hedge fund and first sign of economic trouble they will be running to the hills to get out. The small mom and pops like this place with one owner are the ones that can survive 32 years. This man invested his life and time to community, show him some respect.

      • Steven says:

        I agree Paul. Makes me sad to see that others get a laugh or can make nasty remarks over a person’s 32 year old business being taken away from him. No matter what the story is behind it, you know that owner is obviously going through a rough time right now.

        You should all think “how would I feel if my entire livlihood was gone in the blink of an eye.” I guarantee, none of you would think of it as it being a pleasant experience.

        The karma we give out to others is the karma that will one day come back to us. Sympathize with the people going through a rough time, just as you’d want them to do if you were in that same situation. Saying a few nice words, or just refraining from a few not so nice words isn’t that hard now, is it?!

    23. Ben says:

      Harriet’s was a gem. Enthusiastic and friendly staff, delicious chicken and sides (so good I never bothered trying the burger), big portions and fair prices. The kind of place we don’t have enough of on the UWS anymore. Always seemed like it was just good to last, and so it was.

    24. Rachel Cole says:

      He used to own Riverrun in TriBeCa, prior to Harriet’s Kitchen. Best chicken pot pies, ever. He and his family are true New Yorkers and he loved the UWS. (Probably not as much as we love his food.) Harriet’s will be missed.

    25. J. Friedman says:

      I used to order from the quite a lot. Really liked their food, particularly their meatloaf. But I stopped dealing with them when their delivery service became utterly horrible. I waited over an hour one time when they promised a half hour arrival. Something was left out, I called and it took another hour for the remaining order to be delivered. No one there really cared, apparently. C’est la vie.

    26. Andrew says:

      32 years is a big success in any day or age or place in this city. It’s a sad end but the restaurant was a success. Nothing is forever in NYC.