By Michael McDowell
Neighborhood favorite Mana, at Amsterdam and 91st Street, is closing on April 28th.
“People are in tears,” a regular wrote the Rag. “The owner has been involved with neighborhood families for over thirty years. The closing is part of the end of old New York.”
Mana has served organic, macrobiotic, vegetarian, and vegan cuisine to Upper West Siders for decades, and was an early mover in the city so far as this now nearly ubiquitous type of cooking is concerned.
Owner Sung-Hee Lee confirmed Mana will close next week.
“It’s very depressing,” an otherwise upbeat Lee acknowledged. Business hasn’t been as good as it once was, she said, and she no longer wants to deal with the headaches that accompany owning a restaurant in New York City.
Mana, which is painted in Santa Fe-tones, was bustling on a sultry Friday afternoon, and Lee fluttered from table to table, with a warm, informal demeanor and a kind smile.
“You are so sweet. Are you vegan? Vegetarian?” she asked the Rag.
An honest reporter admitted the truth, with an apology: neither vegan nor vegetarian.
“Don’t say that! I’m only vegetarian because I don’t like meat,” she reassured.
Several diners appeared to be aware of the impending closure, and asked Lee where they would find their favorite dishes, after the restaurant closes. She seemed to have an answer for each of them.
Lee arrived in New York in 1974, from Seoul, South Korea, with the dream of becoming a photographer—everything from portraits to Ansel Adams, whose work she admires. But she fell in love with restaurants, and began waiting tables at Souen, which moved from the Upper West Side to Soho in the 1980s.
“I started waitressing in the 1970s, and I worked and worked and became the owner of Mana. I’ve been here on Amsterdam since 1998, and before, I was on Broadway for nine years, since 1989,” Lee reminisced.
“I love the restaurant, but I don’t like numbers, I don’t like to give small portions, I don’t even like email! I just love people,” she smiled.
What’s next for Lee? She has no plans to slow down.
“I’m going to work, and I’m going to do what I love, which is taking care of customers,” she affirmed.
“Perhaps. A lot of people have asked me to work with them, but my mother is 87-years-old, and I’m her only daughter, so I have to go home and take care of her, in South Korea. I haven’t been able to visit as often as I would have liked, because of the restaurant.”
She hopes neighbors and regulars know how grateful she is for their support over so many years.
“It’s been such a wonderful journey. My customers have been my partners all of these years, so I want to thank them for supporting me, loving me, and inspiring me. And giving me money!” she laughed.
Eaters have until April 28th to enjoy Mana’s specialities: pumpkin ravioli, salmon corn chowder, okonomiyaki, and tempeh temptation.
This is so so sad. It is the best food on the upper west side… by far. Big loss for all of us.
She sounds like a beautiful person and values being there for her mom.
Restaurant business is hard on family life.
When everyone else is enjoying themselves with family restaurant workers And owners are always working.
Glad she is now going to have the time to be with her mom in South Korea .
Happy trails to you !
New owners are taking over the restaurant.Met then engulf picking up food.
Too bad. The food is tasty and healthy, and the restaurant is comfortable and relaxing
Lee is special! Mana is not only greatr in terms of the foor, but the warmth and caring that come come from Lee herself. I hope Her absence will be temporary and that she will continue to be a significant force for healthy and mindful dining on the UWS.
I’m glad for Lee. Yet really sad for us. I have been a big fan of Lee’s since we worked together at Souen. Mana has been my home since it opened and I, and my family, are going to miss it terribly. My children grew up on Mana food. In fact, my younger daughter, Lee, is named w/lovely Lee in mind… ♥️♥️♥️♥️
I’m so sad. Friends used to drag me kicking & screaming to Souen. I generally only ate brown & white foods! Then I found seitan parmesan…love at first bite! I will really miss Lee. She’s a wonderful light. Have to get there again before she closes.
I am so sad for this, but I understand…
It is one of the best restaurants and one of the healthiest in the city…and I love Lee…
I will miss it sooooo much..
Oh No! I was a Rouen customer and then moved to Mana when Souen closed. Lee projected a warm and heartfelt enviorment for us to enjoy a meal there. Best wishes, Lee. Prayers for your mother are on the way.
Lee …. u will always have a special place in my life. Jimmy beought is together I. The early years and. Ow penny has brought me back to u. I am beyond grateful for what I brought to the neighborhood and I know our paths will cross again. U will be missed.
The wonderful Ms. Lee is moving on. She has a family, a life. This is not a reason for tears. Just the opposite!
Thank you very much for publishing this story. Mana’s closing really is the end of another chapter of old New York’s flavor. The New York I remember is a collection of small, provincial neighborhoods where neighbors and services interact with one another in much the same way as a small town. We knew one another. Sung-Hee Lee has been a neighborhood fixture for more than a generation of families and children; she has been part of the neighborhood us. Thank you, Sung-Hee Lee for your gracious presence and the wonderful fare you have provided us.
It’s the end of an era! Mana & Lee’s presence – her delicious food – innovative macrobiotic, classy and classical, will be missed. Thank you for all your years keeping us well nourished in style. Best wishes for your next adventure. with Love, Shelley
Thank you for publishing this article about Mana. We went there for dinner tonight and it was wonderful as usual. It will be missed as will it’s lovely owner.
Thank you Lee,
Since 1989 up until now your lovely food was a reliable staple and the environment of your establishment always a soothing relief .
Mana will be missed but I am so glad you will experience some freedom to see family and we are so lucky to have enjoyed the food and your presence !
Mana has been my main stay for as many years as Lee has been there. She has always been wonderful and consistently excellent. Running a restaurant on your own is extremely hard. I wish Lee all the best and will miss her greatly.
Don’t blame her, but damn, I love Mana! Hate to see it go.
I am very, very sad to hear about Mana closing and wish Sung-Hee Lee the very best.
At a time when the world is becoming more enlightened about the benefits of a (mostly) plant-based diet, the UWS is losing Mana and gaining a new Popeyes!
Mana will truly be missed! It was always my go to place for a fresh, consistently fresh and healthful meal. Wishing Sung-Hee and her mom the best!
Can somebody take over the same business/concept so the spirit of Mana lives on??? We need to preserve just basic, wholesome vegetarian dishes without all the fanfares and fireworks. True nourishment.
I’m really sad.
It’s the only restaurant I enjoy
Food is simple and”clean”
And it’s quiet and feels so welcoming
I understand the owner has had enough.
Won’t someone step up and take it over?
Thanks for all the great meals, the wonderful service, and the beautiful environment. Good luck!
Terrible news, I’ve been coming here since I was a teenager. Wholesome & nourishing vegetarian macrobiotic food. Had my last meal here last night. Thanks for everything, Lee
So sad to hear this. Can Hung He Lee leave us her recipes? I can’t go on without Mana Bowl or tempeh temptation and everything in that dish!