Owners say lease disputes force the doors to shut at neighborhood café
By Mccamey Lynn
The Grey Dog, a fixture of the West Village coffeehouse scene for over a decade, will be closing its doors on Sunday, Oct. 16. Lease disputes with their landlord have forced brothers David Ethan and Peter Adrian to pack up shop at their flagship store at 33 Carmine St.
Ethan and Adrian opened the small coffee shop, their first, which also serves food and drinks, in 1996 and have remained successful in the age of Starbucks. Their other locations, at University Place and West 16th Street, will continue to serve as community hot spots for the java-drinking crowd.
“The goal was to build a small coffeehouse in the world’s great city,” said the brothers. “We wanted to concentrate on little things that often get lost in big city life, like getting to know the names of our patrons.” According to Adrian, their client base is roughly 75 percent regulars—many of whom come in multiple times a day. “I was there from the beginning,” said one frequent customer, Bob Brisley. “From that point on I became hooked—not only on the food and some of the best coffee in New York City but also the atmosphere of friendship and neighborhood.”
As the doors of the Carmine Street location close for good, a new Grey Dog will be opening up on Mulberry Street near Chinatown just a week later. Still, the community is mourning the loss of its neighborhood coffee shop. “There really isn’t any other place like it in the neighborhood,” said community member Dar Wallace. “While I do like to think that I will walk to the new location, that’s probably not going to happen very often.”
Ethan and Adrian are equally devastated. “Should we be forced to leave, it will break our hearts a hundred times over,” said the brothers when they announced the possible closing on their website earlier this year.
It is not for lack of popularity that the iconic shop is shutting down. The landlord of the Carmine Street location “claimed he had made an oversight on our lease and informed us he was intending to collect property taxes retroactive to the beginning of the term. This fee was not included in the lease and amounted to over $100,000,” alleged the brothers on their website.
The landlord, who, according to the brothers, is Janusz Sendowski of Sarsen Realty, is reportedly citing Bloomberg’s property tax increases from 2001. According to Adrian, the back taxes are not included in the lease and the landlord is allegedly claiming that they must be paid in addition to rent. “We even went so far as to cut him a check every month,” said Adrian. The brothers claim they have paid $10,000 but are still reportedly prohibited from renewing their lease, which ends Oct. 31.
The Grey Dog’s landlord also owns several other buildings on the block, say the brothers and a neighboring business owner. The Brazilian restaurant Berimbau, operated by Mario Estindola, is running into similar problems. “We have come to the point that we cannot afford to pay anymore,” Estindola said.
The landlord could not be reached for comment, but Adrian and Estindola say he controls half the block and several other businesses are struggling to pay what he demands. “We feel we have been more than accommodating with him,” said Adrian. “I do not even make a salary anymore with these increases,” added Estindola.
The loss of the Grey Dog marks a sad day in the neighborhood, and it may not be the last business to close on the block. In fact, Estindola is sure that this will not be. “We will be next,” he said.
A diner takes in one last bite at The Grey Dog’s Carmine Street location in the West Village. The eatery — a favorite amongst local residents — will close this Sunday. Photo by Andrew Schwartz
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