Vegan Favorite Candle Café West Facing ‘Dire Situation’ Due to Gas Shutdown; Ollie’s Remains Optimistic

Ollie’s To Go and Candle Cafe West at 89th and Broadway on the Upper West Side

By Joy Bergmann

On April 22nd, Con Edison found “illegal piping” and “unauthorized valve operation” and turned off gas service to 251 W. 89th Street – a 72-unit condominium known as The Admaston – and two restaurants on the Broadway side of the building – Ollie’s To Go at 2425 Broadway and Candle Café West at 2427 Broadway, causing both to remain closed for over four weeks.

“We will definitely reopen, but it will take some time due to new construction that needs to be done,” Billy Wang, head of operations for Ollie’s Restaurant Group, tells WSR. “However, once those steps are completed, we will be open right away as there was nothing wrong with our store individually.”

The picture is not so optimistic for Candle Café West.

“We’re looking at a dire situation,” says Benay Vynerib, general manager for Candle Café Hospitality that operates three restaurants featuring plant-based, locally sourced, “compassionate” cuisine. The UWS location opened seven years ago with an “eco-cocktail bar” and seating for over 100 guests.

“The owners are evaluating what to do, but it’s had a devastating effect on the business and workers as well as the customers,” she says. “It’s horrific. We have 50 staff that are going to lose jobs. It’s vendors. The whole local economy gets affected when you put a business out of business.”

On April 22, the restaurants posted messages to their respective customers

No one seems to know how long the problem will continue.

“Gas safety is huge for us,” says Sidney Alvarez, a Con Ed spokesperson. “We are still waiting for the property owners to complete the work with their plumber before we can introduce service.”

That work has been further delayed. The Department of Buildings issued Stop Work Orders to the project following an inspection on May 20th, according to Andrew Rudansky, a DOB spokesperson.

“During the inspection, DOB inspectors observed that the gas meters and nearby gas piping had been removed. These removals went beyond the scope of the work permits that were issued by DOB last month,” Rudansky tells WSR. “In order to remove the Stop Work Orders, the plumber must amend their permits to include the full scope of work they plan on performing, and request another DOB inspection.”

Once contractors finish their repairs, DOB must certify that the work is complete. Only then can ConEd perform “integrity testing” on the gas lines to ensure the system is safe for gas restoration, Alvarez says.

Department of Buildings posted Stop Work Orders on May 20

As other Upper West Siders have recently learned, that process can take months, with no clear timeline for relief in sight.

New Bedford Management Corp, the property managers for 251 W. 89th, did not respond to multiple requests for comment. Levites Realty, the commercial landlord for the four establishments on the building’s Broadway side, also has not yet returned our call.

Some affected workers cannot afford to wait for answers.

“This left us in a difficult situation. We’re in a tight spot, going weeks without a paycheck,” Ian, a former server at Candle Café West, tells WSR. He – like many of his colleagues – has reluctantly moved on to another job. “I was so happy going to work there, helping to introduce people to the vegan movement. We had such open, happy customers. We were all friends.”

Colleen Sturtevant says she ate there at least four times a month and hopes the owners can find a way forward. “It was an amazing vegan place that even non-vegans enjoyed. Everyone was so kind and loving and cared about their customers.”

Vynerib says options are running out. “Insurance doesn’t help us. What the building did with the gas line was illegal. Once it’s illegal, the covered cause of loss goes away. Last Monday we found out our business interruption insurance [claim] was denied.”

While Gary Null’s Uptown Whole Foods – located on the corner of the building at 2421 Broadway – makes do with electrical appliances for its minor cooking needs, and condo residents put toaster ovens to work, Ollie’s and Candle cannot pinch hit their operations. “If there was something we could do without gas, we would be open,” Vynerib says, noting the dwindling choices for vegetarian locals. “We got shut down on the 22nd, Mana closed on the 28th. It’s tough.”

“Everybody gets thrown under the bus when this happens,” says Ira Goller, owner of Murray’s Sturgeon Shop next door to Candle Café West.

Goller says he’s grateful that his world of smoked fish and chopped liver doesn’t require gas, but fears for the future of the block and for UWS retail. “It’s bad for the neighborhood when stores are vacant. It just doesn’t look good.”

FOOD, NEWS, OPEN/CLOSED | 20 comments | permalink
    1. Jean Luke says:

      The problem is NYC government doesn’t care about small local businesses and won’t be of any help. And when retail tenants sign a lease they are beholden to these unexpected kinds of problems such as scaffolding being required by the bldg Dept. potentially every 5 years which can ruin a business such as what happened to Ocean Grill.

      You can run a great business and then have all of your hard work ruined by the City, Bldg. Dept. Con Ed, Landlord etc.

      • Sarah says:

        The building was screwing around with the gas lines. That’s how you get multiple buildings leveled like in the East Village. I feel very bad for CCW and its employees and customers–this is a horrible waste–but the villain here isn’t the city, it’s whoever at the co-op thought they could be cavalier about they did with the gas service. CCW should sue.

        • young man! says:

          Looks like the plumber did not perform the job that permits were pulled for. Probably came in with a good price and the landlord may not have known that the plumber was cutting corners.

          Plumber no doubt will get their license suspended or revoked. Best case for the plumber is suspension and then extremely close scrutiny by DOB of any work done for the next few years.

      • dannyboy says:

        “You can run a great business and then have all of your hard work ruined by the City, Bldg. Dept. Con Ed, Landlord etc.” – Jean Luke

        I’m seeing a pattern here: “New Bedford Management Corp, the property managers for 251 W. 89th, did not respond to multiple requests for comment. Levites Realty, the commercial landlord for the four establishments on the building’s Broadway side, also has not yet returned our call.”

    2. Zanarkand says:

      I still don’t get why landlords can get away with gas being shutoff to a commercial restaurant and said restaurant still being forced to pay the lease while it is resolved…

      • B.B. says:

        Unless ordered otherwise via court, any tenant commercial or residential is responsible for continuing rent payments. This even when apartment/space is damaged by fire or whatever, and or otherwise uninhabitable.

        Indeed in order for a RS tenant (or any other IIRC) to preserve right to return in case of a fire or whatever damaged building/apartment they must continue to pay rent unless ordered otherwise by courts.

        Commercial (and again residential) tenants can take up any losses with LL via legal action in civil court.

        Of course if LL is willing to work out some sort of legally binding agreement, then court can be avoided.

    3. eyeroller says:

      Compassionate Cuisine? You’ve got to be kidding.

    4. Harris Schaer says:

      Is there a form of insurance restaurants can get which would shield them from lost business during an illegal gas use shutdown like this? (assuming the violation occurs elsewhere in the building).

    5. Joy Bergmann says:

      For those interested in looking at permit applications related to this situation, please check out the DOB’s new web database DOB NOW.

      https://a810-dobnow.nyc.gov/publish/#!/search

      Put in the building identification number: 1033313

      Then review “Job Filings” for 2019.

      You have to look at both this new site and the legacy DOB site these days because they hold different documents.

    6. Ben David says:

      The possible loss of Candle Cafe is truly heartbreaking. As the plant-based movement continues to grow globally because of awareness of animal suffering, in addition to factory farming being the leading cause of climate change … here on the UWS we may lose Candle Cafe, yet we gained Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen !!

    7. Ponald Pump says:

      The Ollie’s formerly at 116 and Broadway exploded a few years ago, blowing the sign off the side of the building onto the street.

    8. Carnival Canticle says:

      I’m glad that Con Ed discovered the illegal gas work before it could cause a catastrophe like the explosion in a restaurant (for similar reasons)that killed several employees and caused a fire that leveled the better part of a block on Second Avenue in the East Village several years ago. In that case, it was the restaurant owner who installed the illegal gas lines. I agree with the owner of Murray’s that it’s bad for retail on Broadway to have the gas shut off, and hope the problem is fixed soon. But this could have been a much sadder story.

    9. LEE APT says:

      MY GAS WAS CUT OFF FOR 72 DAYS BY CON ED (ONLY MY APARTMENT) – BECAUSE OF SOME “LEAK INTO THE METER… THEY SHUT IT OFF ON A FRIDAY – AS THE SUPER GAVE ME NOTICE. I THOUGHT HE MEANT FOR THE WEEKEND.. . TURNED OUT IT TOOK 72 DAYS – WITH MULTIPLE CALLS, TO CON ED, MY LANDLORD, MY ASSEMBLYMAN’S OFFICE , MY COUNCILWOMAN’S OFFICE – A LETTER TO THE MAYOR, AND AN ONLINE COMPLAINT TO THE CITY. I AM A SENIOR CITIZEN, WHO DOES NOT EAT OUT OR ORDER IN REGULARLY, AS I HAVE LIMITED INCOME. NOTHING MOVED ANYONE – ESPECIALLY CON ED. EVEN WHEN ALL WAS FIXED, AND ALL THR “PAPERWORK” WAS SUBMITTED – IT TOOK ANOTHER TWO WEEKS FOR CON ED TO COME AND TURN IT BACK ON.
      CON ED IS A MONOPOLY. WE HAVE NO CHOICE AS TO SERVICE PROVIDER IN NYC, AND THUS, CON ED CAN GO AS SLOWLY AS IT PLEASES, AND BLAME EVERYONE ELSE.

    10. hope says:

      @Mark Levine
      @Helen Rosenthal
      @jumaane williams