WHY ALAN CHARTOCK CAN’T STAY AWAY FROM AN EVER-EXPANDING BAKESHOP
By Alan S. Chartock
If you ever run across anyone who lives in the Upper West 80s or has recently spent any time on the West Side of Manhattan, ask them if they know Georgia’s. They are sure to look at you with wonderment in their eyes.
Georgia Stamoulis comes from a Greek family, and when you ask her how she got into the restaurant business, she simply says, “I’m Greek.” Her family comes from the Greek Island of Chios.
What started as a patisserie has grown in size and reputation. Now when we get into New York, our favorite thing to do is head to Georgia’s Bake Shop, on Broadway at West 89th Street, and sit at one of the outdoor European-type tables in the summer and inside in the winter. We watch people, from Kevin Bacon to that guy from Law and Order, walk by. According to my almost-Ph.D. daughter, who sits with her mother to watch the scene, Joy Behar of The View is always around.
Stamoulis is no novice. Now 74 years old, she went to the bank and asked them for a loan for her new enterprise. Probably based on her tremendous success with Silver Moon Bakery, on Broadway and West 105th Street (she and a partner still own and operate it with great success), the bank gave her the loan. Her friendly banker told her that it was a tremendous vote of confidence, since they didn’t usually give loans to people her age. She started by renting a small store on the southeast corner of Broadway and 89th Street that was once a cell-phone store. (“We have too many cell-phone stores,” she says with characteristic feistiness.) She rented the frame shop next door when it went out of business. (“We have too many frame shops on the West Side.”)
She loves to play tennis and takes dancing lessons. She says that she wants to keep as much business in the neighborhood as possible. She spends a lot of time on the smallest amenities, including faithfully tending the little planters adorning the perimeter of her space. The shop is dog friendly, and the dogs lie by their humans’ sides in the permitted outside areas. You’d almost think you were in Paris.
The pastries are prepared by Aliou Hane (formerly of the famous French pastry shop Fauchon and the Plaza). They are so special that the lines are frequently out the door. Ditto the amazing breads. Complimenting the work of pastry chef Hane is another Stamoulis find, Luisa Fernandes, who was nominated as one of the top 10 chefs in Westchester. The 54-year-old Portuguese native has expanded the menu to the point that the little-bakery-that-could now serves tapas in the afternoon and dinner until 9:30 p.m. every night. The eggs benedict, salads, sandwiches, breakfast pancakes and soups are phenomenal.
Stamoulis knows people, and they love her. She is treated as a local celebrity akin to Toots Shor of late. People drop by just to speak with Stamoulis and get her views on everything under the sun. She recently greeted a customer named Bonnie, legal assistant to a judge, and called out to her dog, Audrey. Another customer, Michelle Zaiser, said that while she has had opportunities to rent better apartments in different places, “I couldn’t leave Georgia’s. I’m in here three times a day. The cappuccino is the best on the West Side.” Talk about loyalty.
My wife, Roselle, says that Georgia’s is a restful place. The coffee is excellent, and the pastries are wonderful, but the best thing is the pain ordinaire, a simple sourdough roll that, with butter and jam, is my favorite thing. Now with the addition of eggs, I can’t stay away. But what Roselle really loves is the vantage point that Georgia’s provides on the world. “You see every age, every color, every kind of dress, or undress. You hear every language and you try to imagine where they are going or where they are coming from. There is an awning to protect you from the sun, and the fact that she is on the corner allows you to see people coming from four different directions. If you want to understand the West Side, Georgia’s is the place to be.”
Of course, Stamoulis has her concerns. The rents on the West Side are prohibitive, and you have to sell a lot just to keep up. Her concern is not unwarranted, but my money is on Stamoulis to beat the odds.
Alan S. Chartock, a born and bred West Sider, is president and CEO of WAMC/Northeast Public Radio and executive publisher at The Legislative Gazette.
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