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.”
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.
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.”