Gabriela’s Restaurant and Tequila Bar, a neighborhood spot that serves home-style Mexican food on Columbus Avenue between 93rd and 94th Streets, is closing after 15 years, according to a sign posted outside. The restaurant is expected to close on September 23 or 30, according to co-owner Nat Milner.
Nat and Elizabeth Milner are locals, and they previously owned Elizabeth Neighborhood’s Table next door to Gabriela’s. That spot closed in 2017 and has been replaced by Amsterdam Burger Bar.
In an email, Nat Milner explained the difficulties the restaurant has faced.
“After 15 years in this location and 25 years in the neighborhood, we simply could not adjust to the changing market forces. Minimum wage to $15 in 3 short years presented a huge challenge, which we have overcome through hard felt payroll cuts.
However, additionally, that increased wage has now made everything in the neighborhood more expensive. Our local neighbors, the folks we rely on in the 10 blocks around our location, simply have less at the end of the month to go out to eat. Sales are down, food costs are up, and wages are double. We have too much overhead to survive the upcoming long slow winter. We are trying to close with integrity before the end of the month.
Personally we are looking to develop smaller counter service models that require less labor to run like our Taqueria at 44th and 8th. We are in the development of a midtown Vegan concept due to open this winter. We hope to someday return to the Upper West Side in a smaller fashion after the bottom of this cycle has endured and we can see a brighter outlook. We greatly appreciate everyone’s love and support. It has kept us going for the past few years. We are heartbroken to let this go.
Sadly these are the times we are in. Please invite readers to swing by and say goodbye!”
In an interview a few years ago, Nat said that Gabriela’s was actually his uncle’s idea. And it initially had two locations — the one on 93rd and another on 74th.
Gabriela’s was actually formed by my uncle originally back in the early 90s. Gabriela worked in my uncle’s house as a nanny and housekeeper. Gabriela would have cooked dinner for my uncle’s kids, my cousins. The food was amazing. “Gabriela, what kind of food is this?” She’s like, “I don’t know what this is. It’s just stuff I cook at home. This is what I make every day.” He said, “We have to open up a restaurant and do this.”
Thanks to Harry, G. and Gary for tips and photos.
Not sad to say goodbye to a $20 half a chicken w/ rice and a tablespoon of beans.
did you not read why they were closing? Do you think it was “Greed” driving the price of that chicken” or the 15$ wage and onerous operating costs.
Do you think the empty space that will be there for the foreseeable future sell you a half chicken and beans at a price that’s more agreeable to you?
If it’s a reasonable place, yes.
but I was hoping for mutton.
I suppose mutton is better than nuttin’. All jousting aside, the mutton chop at Keen’s Steak House is where I go when I’m in a Game Of Thrones-ish mood.
I Love Keens!!!!
Nasty comment / taking your cue from the ‘child’ in the WH? shameful
* I meant $20.00 1/2 Chicken NOT burger on my post. My mistake.
Didn’t you read that because if minimum wage increase that they couldn’t stay in business, as well as food costs, rent and such went up! I’m sure the reason for a “$20.00 burger” was to absorb some of those costs! Obviously it didn’t work out so well. Please don’t blame the establishment for certain things that aren’t within their control while trying to eek out a living and business! Thanks!
Very mean-spirited comment. You sound like Trump on Bolton.
What a nasty comment. If you can’t say something nice, keep quiet!
So let’s never ever complain. Ever! Sounds very realisic.
The grumps of the upper west side want high salaries but cheap eats.
Goodbye to a great restaurant. Had many great times there!
It makes me so sad when longtime local spots close and equally sad when the closure is attributed to a minimum wage increase.
How can an increased minimum wage result in people having less to spend at the end of the month? Besides the owners, I mean.
Please, let’s face the facts. Gabriela’s was behind the times! Elizabeth’s was always run poorly & food mediocre!
I happen to like Gabriela’s. I’ve eaten there several times. This is very unfortunate.
The new $15 minimum wage has destroyed a local business, led to its employees losing their jobs and we now have another empty storefront in the neighborhood.
A perfect example of brilliant “progressive” social and economic policies.
I hope all the UWS lefties who support this destructive nonsense are now happy.
Yes there are some employees that get the minimum wage. Probably the cooks, porters, host/hostess, The Chef May be on Salary. But the wait staff and Bartenders as well as runners get tipped so their minimum wage is much different and much lower because of their wages are being compensated by their tips! So although the minimum wage increase definitely can cause difficulties, I wouldn’t say it’s The ONLY reason for closures in the restaurant/bar business! It’s a combination of issues including much higher costs in rent, price of food orders, produce and other things to run a business!
Most of a restaurant staff is paid on $2-3 an hour and tips so not sure how salary killed this place. I’ve always enjoyed meeting friends Gabriela’s but the food wasn’t ever anything to write home about.
I call mierda de toro on that, Shermie.
For one thing, they’re opening another restaurant–a midtown vegan ‘concept’. Will the place somehow be exempt from the new living wage law? No. Instead, ownership is trying a new mix. It feels like they are still trying to litigate the living-wage via PR-campaign, when they seem to still have other resstaurants.
And how many restaurants do you see (pre-living wage) that opened for six months or a year, and then failed? It’s a constant. Restaurants are a tough go in Manhattan; failure is the norm, a 20-year tenure is not.
Restaurant entreprenuers will pour crazy-money into a landlord’s pocket, but then cry poor when it’s time to pay the staff. I wonder if the new living-wage law will slowly force a shift of resources from landlord to busboy? If a landlord wants to rent a space to a restaurant, then they will have to offer terms (i.e. cheaper rent) that allow for increased labor costs.
This living-wage issue highlights an inequity of the ‘market’ argument: capital, absent regulation, will pay workers in desperate circumstances the least possible, in order to provide owners, who have more bargaining power, a greater return.
I feel zero pity for restaurateurs who whine and gritch about paying a living wage; it just shows that they’ve been exploiting their employees all these years, treating them as disposable as a single-use plastic takeout bag.
Go fail somewhere else.
Sure, some restaurants can survive by paying a minimum wage of $15/hour; mediocre ones cannot. Gabriela’s was mediocre.
I’m not eating out as much because it’s gotten more expensive and when I do, I’m certainly not going to some place that serves bland, boring food. I’m sure I’m not alone.
“Go fail somewhere else”
That’s exactly what he’s going to do.
We now have another empty storefront in the neighborhood, we lost a good restaurant and many people lost their jobs.
I see your progression policies are working.
Any tipped employee at bars and restaurants D NOt get minimum wage. They get the minimum of $2 something and their tips! That includes, waitstaff, bartenders, busboys, runners. The non tipped employees get at least minimum wage: Managers. Cook staff, chefs, host/hostesses ( unless collects part of waitstaff’s tips) So although higher minimum wages are parts of the
problem, they most certainly not the whole problem! There is rent increases and lack of foot traffic amongst other things.
You are misinformed. In NYC, tipped restaurant workers minimum wage is about $12 and the $3 difference is called a “tip credit”. The $2 something wage you referred to is the federal minimum. The higher state minimum controls.
Well then things have changed dramatically in the last 8 years since working in the industry! Because neither I or any other waitstaff/bartenders I’ve worked with ever got close to that figure.
Wrong to blame on living wage. How about lack of control over commercial property rentals?
At no point does the owner of Gabriela’s blame high rent for his restaurant’s problems.
And you are wrong to stare that he has no control over his rent.
For starters, he signed a lease that was a negotiated rent with the landlord.
Second, if he wasn’t happy with the rent he could simply move when his lease expired.
So your arguments make no sense.
How are workers supposed to live on less? In this city?
Good wishes to you to all of us feeling economically squeezed!
I find it odd that the owner cites the increase in minimum wage as the main reason for closing. I know restaurants are a tough business in the city, but astronomical rents for commercial spaces are usually at what drives these kinds of closures. If the owner has been surviving that by underpaying employees for years and now can’t manage the mandated increase to pay them a fair wage, then maybe it’s time they moved on. Also, if a restaurant can run on all cylinders, meaning they provide excellent food and great atmosphere combined with great service and reasonable prices, they will get business even in the winter and when people hit lean times. But that is hard to do and Gabriela’s was not one of those places. Again, I think it’s a shame to put such emphasis on the minimum wage increase as the main reason.
I couldn’t agree more. Blaming some of the most vulnerable workers in the city who cannot even live on a $15/hour minimum wage for your business problems (as Book Culture does, as well) is just heartless.
They may continue to get business in the winter, but with a large portion of their seating being outdoors it’s common sense that they simply can’t turn as many tables when it’s cold outside.
Yeah, Gabriela’s was one of the first restaurants I tried on the UWS when I moved here ~20 years ago, when it was at the other location, way before $15/hr minimum wage.
Even then, it was marginally overpriced and subpar quality. For awhile, they had decent pozole, but then stopped offering it. Probably didn’t return enough margin.
As years went by and Gabreiala’s prices went up (and up, and up), I tried it a few more times, eat-in, delivery…could never find the value point.
After they moved to the spot on Columbus, I have walked by there every day for years vaguely lamenting what could be a good restaurant concept, but isn’t; thinking I might try it again sometime, but always managing to find somewhere else.
I could hear the labored breathing when they split the space with a tequila bar, then Good to Eat (or whatever), and wondered how much longer they’d hold out. Now we know.
Ownership can attribute it to being forced to pay a living wage, but it’s really been a long, slow decline years in the making, and an inability of the owners to offer quality product at a reasonable value.
I belive it’s called “shakeout”.
I don’t find it odd at all. Labor is a big cost to most businesses – whether you’re paying minimum or above. And we know that the minimum wage went up. I think it was $7 or so before the hikes started? Not sure.
Facts are facts. You can be pro-higher minimum wage, as I am myself, but it has affects. It’s going to affect businesses which are marginally profitable, and it’s not surprising that a long time restaurant would be pushed over the edge by such an externality (expense they do not control). I see no reason to not take him at his word, and his statement is not judgementally worded.
Regarding “everything being more expensive”, I agree that’s an assertion that could use some more specificity for credibility. But I bet a lot of food and restaurant supply companies also paid many of their employees minimum wage, and they too may have increased prices as a result. I’ve definitely noticed grocery store prices creeping up in recent years – another place where surely many wages are minimums.
If the restaurant has been paying legally mandated wages and people have been willing to work for these wage then how has the restaurant been “underpaying employees for years”?
Your argument makes no sense.
I know entrepreneurs that have simply given up on the restaurant business because of the wage hike, even after signing a lease. It’s killing restaurants, they can’t survive at that rate because people, including me, would rather eat at home than absorb the high prices of the meal.
Absolutely devastated. While (very) expensive, have been there probably twice a month for the last ten years. But how do we square the wage excuse when two direct competitors have opened an avenue over, one just this summer? 97th and Amsty (Guacamole) may not be 94th and Columbus, but it’s close enough. Haven’t been to Rancho T on 95th and Amsty yet, but will try getting our margarita fix there beginning in October.
I’ll have to try those places — as soon as I can figure out where on earth “Amsty” is.
Do you live in the neighborhood?
Another example of woke Progressive diktats destroying our community.
Sounds like scapegoating to me. Maybe his profit margin was not going to be as high as he would have liked. We have gone many times and the prices had gone way up before there was any $15 minimum wage. Maybe the prices were too high and not good value as it used to be. Maybe the owners raised prices to take advantage of the influx of the wealthier inhabitants moving to the UWS and they went too far. The icing on the cake was his story about the nanny and her recipes. Did she get royalties ? Bet she couldn’t have afforded eating out there
This place was nothing special. Basically a half step above Chipotle. If you can’t afford to pay your staff a barely-living wage, you’re doing something wrong.
$25 chicken burrito. That’s all I have to say.
The wage hike comments are asinine.
If people are MAKING MORE they will SPEND MORE. Also, to expect any local NYC UWSider (or anyone in the 5 boroughs for that matter) to afford housing, food, and basic level of living on anything less is IMPOSSIBLE. It’s a numbers game. Math doesn’t lie.
Also all those complaining about the increase in homelessness…how do you plan on setting up a system for those people to get off the street if we cannot supply a standard livable wage? You can’t have it both ways.
I’m saddened to hear this news. The food was better than average Mexican, I rarely had to wait long for a seat inside or out and the service was quick and efficient. I will miss this local mainstay
Sad to see another chain coming in..
I’m sad it’s closing.Have happy memories of going there years ago.And so many others have closed and been replaced by chains.It’s changing the character of a neighborhood that is totally unique.
It’s sad to have – first Elizabeth’s, and now Gabriella’s – close. I’m sure it has a lot to do with higher costs of everything BUT to lay the blame on the $15 minimum wage is a sad reflection on the owner. The workers at Gabriella’s DESERVE a living wage and that living wage increases the money that can be spent by these workers.
all boats rise with the tide. He is not making sense except that its the old story of the butler who kicks the dog, lashing out at the least protected, most vulnerable down the line.
Used to be very good food & a good price especially when they were on Amsterdam Ave. Still good when they moved to Columbus Ave. But over the years the prices went higher & higher & smaller & smaller portions. Very poor excuse blaming the wages increases.Good-by.
The wage hike may be causing some growing pains, but any meaningful change comes with a price. Businesses have to adapt to their changing reality, and those that cannot will join the ranks of the dinosaur and dodo.
Very sad to see you go – there really isn’t another restaurant with your quality of food left. I wish you well in your next ventures. God bless you!
They used to be at 75th and Amsterdam in a casual, festive space. It was one of my fave places. The uptown space wasn’t as intimate but I still enjoyed brunching there at least once a year. Adios!
(I agree with the other commenters that the main problem had to be the rent not the wage hike.)
The increased minimum wage is a disaster. I am all for a living wage, but this was too much, too quickly.
If restaurants are paying their servers $15 an hour instead of a much lower wage before and baking it into their prices, they should make this clear and tipping should be adjusted accordingly.
Tipped workers get. $10 an hour, not $15.
What some may not realize, when a restaurant bumps the wage of someone who maybe making $12.00 to $15.00 / hr., all the other people up the line want a $3.00 increase as well.
Combine wages with crazy rents and you get $20.00 burgers and $15.00 cocktails.
Gabriela’s had okay Mexican food at $$$ prices, so it wasn’t a particularly good business model to begin with.
Then factor in that they lack compelling daily specials to turn out locals throughout the week (think $14 fajitas at Cilantro on Mondays), they lack compelling happy hour deals ($9 for a margarita on the rocks), and the high prices diminish the potential for a strong delivery business — which would have been particularly helpful for the winter season. What’s left is a restaurant that is both not appealing to the broader neighborhood, but also is not giving its immediate, 10-block neighbors strong reasons to visit frequently.
Maybe they would have scrapped by for another year, or few years, if not for the $15 minimum wage. But to blame it on that is to wholly neglect a mountain of other issues and factors.
Is New Amsterdam Burger Bar next door REALLY going to finally open?! They’ve had 4+ months of periodic “soft openings,” with a photocopied menu taped to the menu board out front. What chronic problems are they having to delay opening for so long?
They are open, but for a select few. They mostly open their doors at night at least 3-4 times a week. Other than that — they are closed. I don’t get this place as it was always open when they were on 91st & Amsterdam Avenue. I met the owner and he asked me would I eat there knowing it’s kosher (they were under construction in the basement of Elizabeth’s then). I said sure. Burgers are burgers. But what kind of schedule is that? To open only in the early evening — 3-4 days a week? I don’t get it.
Isn’t New Amsterdam Burger Bar for kosher-only? I have seen several Jewish family events taking place at the location over weekends. I hope it is an inclusive place.
It’s been open over a month
It’s not officially open. They are ‘invitation’ only. I’m not sure why… I think it’s to avoid inspections, but not sure.
If they are need this long to work out the kinks, then they have serious issues.
This restaurant had so much potential. Amazing outdoor space and bar area, especially in the barren 90’s, but the food was just bland. Had dinner there twice and felt like I was back in the burbs. If it was $11.99 an entree, sure, but $20+ had us feeling like we got ripped off and wanted a real meal as we were leaving.
They can’t blame the wage hike when so many other restaurants stay open. Hope something actually good opens up in its place.
Oh my, I wonder how many of these folks commenting would be happy to be earning a minimum wage LESS than $15/hr. If restaurants cannot build a business model that accommodates a living wage, then they should either close or not open in the first place.
You have a delivery service at your resturant, you send out the $15 hr delivery person he comes back an hour later. The total of the order was $30.00 .
Do the math people!
one delivery per hour?? houston, we have a problem.
I think the NYC minimum rose to $15 on Dec 31, 2018, less than one year ago.
My grandson had his first restaurant visit there and was always eager to make his own version of tacos. Our family went back many times because it was so so convenient and comfortable. We will miss having them in the neighborhood.
Paying a living wage to employees is probably Not the problem. Reducing portion size, increasing the cost of the average meal, charging more at the bar, are all ways that other restaurants have dealt with increased labor costs. Reducing owner profit to cover increased labor costs is also a traditional way to maintain a business. Restaurants go through cycles. It was the end for this one.
We are losing too many of the old neighborhood spots. I feel very sad about all the empty stores, and the constant turn over in restaurants, and old iconic stores.
I wonder if they paid Gabriela a living wage, or compensated her for her recipes.
What a loss to uws neighborhood. We will miss you Liz and Nat and staff
Where will we go for my birthday??
My go to place for everything….
I wish the Pols would read this and understand that, while well-intentioned, actions like minimum wage, family leave, mandatory vacation time, etc. all have consequences. I loved this restaurant – I’ll miss it.
As a regular a Gabrielas for 15 years…you will be missed. Thank you for the good times and the great food…most of all thank you for you and Elizabeth’s hospitality and you great heart for always giving to high risk children in need of my program. I will follow you guys where go. Love you guys.. blessings always to you and the family…
I have been there since you opened. Loved the great times and the food. Sad to see you go. Thank you for caring and always giving to high risk children of my program, you made a difference. I will follow you guys and support your other establishments. Blessings to you Elizabeth and the kids. Love Wanda
Hold on. Tipped workers don’t get paid $15/hour. The minimum wage for tipped workers was $7.15 or $7.50/hour before 2018. Now it’s $10/hour as long as their tips make up the $5/hour to bring them up to minimum wage. I would suspect in a place like Gabriella’s their employees made that much in tips. If not, the employer (only if they have 11 or more employees) only has to pay the difference if the tips don’t add up to $5/hour. I agree, too, that there are many reasons a restaurant eventually closes. They all do. And I’m not a fan of an owner who gripes and blames the fact that they are required to pay employees a living wage. For all who eat at Gabriella’s and other restaurants in their price range, live on $15/hour for a month and see what it’s like. Good luck with that and stop griping.
we are sorry to hear about this.
I appreciate this open declaration of the times we live in. Living on West 80th Street, my Columbus Street/Amsterdam Ave neighborhood is constantly in transition and I and my Happy Hour friends of many decades are observing all with a very concerned eye and we try to support a few neighborhood establishments as much as we can. While I have not been at Gabriela’s ever, I wish you God Speed! Heike Schilling
So,Nat, why not close temporarily and remake into a vegan or other style restaurant? Maybe divide the space? Two different restaurants or a take out? Or, Half food half store for shoppers seeking what cannot otherwise be found anymore on the UWS Think more creatively. I would have said bookstore, but given Book Culture’s latest problems, hesitate. And re increase in min.wage: HomeGoods a few blocks up cut down on counter/cashier staff to save cost…hence long line for checkout.(was told this a few months ago by a manager).
Nobody really knows why these guys are closing (or any other “small” business ). yes, the rents are an issue. but to be honest, it’s not like these guys have been paying their staff a great wage and benefits for years and now that the time has come to pay people a living wage, they would rather shutdown than pay their workers a living wage. At the end of the day nobody really knows why they are really closing, I do know that their food, never great to begin with, it is truly bad now and the profit margins in restaurants have always been razor thin and people won’t pay more for crappy food. there are better mexican choices in the neighborhood now. Go down to recently opened Tacombi and you will understand what i’m talking about. Gabriela’s is a victim of its own mediocrity.
Dear Gabriela’s restaurant family,
What a loss closing would be to so many of us who have witnessed and savored the home warmth filled soups (caldos), salsas, and exquisite main courses (cochinita pibil -an absolute favorite)
Your Nany story resonates with Cuarón’s Roma and it is worth supporting in many ways.
I am looking forward to a turn around in your business and for Gabriela’s extension in business and success.
Good Luck to the owners, it was nice place to eat with good food!
I’m sure there is Something else is going on. Mismanagement? Greed?
The place is packed daily for lunch and dinner. And the rent in that Mitchell Lama building is not nearly as high as other neighborhoods.
It just does not add up, it sounds like they want out of this model of a full-service restaurant and blaming it on paying workers a fair wage of $15 an hour.
Before the law for paying workers a fair wage, they always had higher prices since the day they opened compared to any other Mexican American restaurant.
Used to go there every weekend for brunch for years, as well as for dinner a couple of times a month. Then food quality went down, prices went up and I stopped going. I think many others did the same. Initial good reputation made the restaurant successful when it opened on Columbus Avenue, but there’s a time-limit on just how far you can ride on your history and Garbriela’s did not keep up. That is why it failed.
I agree with many other commenters that it reflects badly on the owners to blame it all on the increase in the minimum wage, especially since Mr Milner misrepresented the true impact! I was,like others, rather bemused by his comment that he was now going to explore new restaurants in areas with possibly even higher rents! Good luck on that!
I’m sorry but the problem is the minimum wage, not the rents. Don’t know why everyone here is in denial
Got very expensive.
The market has spoken.
Go 10 blocks south to Cilantro. Much better.
Gabriela’s was a favorite of mine. I will miss it. I do have to say I am disappointed that paying workers a living wage is what is being blamed for its closing. The people who waited on me were hard working, incredibly nice, and helpful. They should not bear the brunt of anyone’s disappointment about the closing. They are too easy a target when I am sure the decision was much more complicated.
I was at Elizabeth’s when it closed and purchased a bar stool that is now my mom’s kitchen stool — as a memento. I will now have to do the same thing at Gabriela’s. When is the city going to learn that these constant closing are changing the community bond that all of us have with these establishments (and not all of them are eateries). We have loss so many commercial service businesses that we have to walk to Broadway to find the services (coffee shops; copy stores; jewelry stores/watch repairs etc.). There was a time when Gale Brewer and Community Board 7 did a walk around the neighborhood. What is Helen Rosenthal doing about all of this?
One of my favorite restaurants. We celebrated many birthdays at Gabrielas. The neighborhood is changing rapidly and uncomfortably! I will miss this place. Very sad news.