By Scott Etkin
When Indie Food + Wine, the restaurant in Lincoln Center’s Film Society, closed last January after 12 years, it was a sad moment not only for its patrons on the Upper West Side, but also its staff who had worked together for years.
The small team had already temporarily closed the business during the height of the pandemic. So to do it again when the owner decided to retire and not renew the lease was especially painful. “We felt like we had a strong business and strong community and support-base here in the neighborhood,” said Sarah McLane, who had worked as a general manager and operations manager at Indie for many years. “[The owner] was done, but we weren’t.”
That’s what sparked Sarah to start The Independent Cafe, which found a new home last month nearby in Lincoln Center’s David Rubenstein Atrium, a public venue that has a TKTS booth for discount tickets and hosts live performances.
The previous vendor in the Atrium had been ‘Wichcraft, the sandwich shop backed by star chef Tom Colicchio. But the space has lacked food service for years, even before the pandemic started.
Support from Lincoln Center was essential for Sarah to make the move to running the business, she told the Rag. She kept some clear connections back to the original Indie (a name that referenced “Indie Films,” but some guests misheard as “Indian”). Several items remain on the menu and all the staff is the same. Independent serves mainly American and Mediterranean-inspired salads, soups, and sandwiches, as well as dessert, coffee and drinks.
“Lots of places sell salads and sandwiches, but, you know, stuff comes in a bag and they dump it into a bowl,” she said. “We make everything fresh.”
In some ways, Sarah has put her own stamp on the business. There is an all-female wine list, befitting a cafe that’s female-owned and operated. “All of the wines are female owned or made by female winemakers, which is kind of unheard of,” she said. “It’s one of the last industries that’s totally male-dominated.”
The Atrium seats more people than the Film Center did, and the space is used to host live, free events — with Independent as the caterer.
Though Sarah has done “every job” in a restaurant, this is her first time owning one. “My background is actually in costuming and theater,” she said. “It’s kind of like a little show each day. I think about that a lot when I come to work in Lincoln Center. We have our own little off-off-off-main-stage production over here.”
The Independent Cafe
61 W 62nd Street
(Off Columbus Avenue)