Soup Burg has served up its last bowl.
The restaurant, which had called its Lexington Ave. and 77th Street location home for the past 10 years, was finally forced to call it quits June 29 after the building’s landlord tried to raise the rent exponentially. Unable to pay the higher rent, Soup Burg’s owner, Jimmy Gouvakis, had to make the difficult decision to close the restaurant—a family-owned business since 1963—to make way for the building’s new tenant, TD Bank.
Gouvakis has had the difficult news hanging over him since April; since then, his customers have showered him with support — as well as a healthy dose of outrage. Many neighborhood fans and long-time customers see the closing of Soup Burg as part of a sad, and larger, epidemic—the ousting of small businesses, and the rampant excess of banks and chain stores that replace them. Nikki Henkin, who lives above the Soup Burg and who has been a devoted customer from the beginning, described the restaurant as a favorite local hangout. Located directly across the street from Lenox Hill Hospital, Soup Burg has long “served a neighborhood function,” says Henkin, catering to the hospital staff, neighborhood doormen, and “just people.” The restaurant, which was open from 5 a.m. to 11 p.m., represented a neighborhood spirit for many people, including Henkin, who describes such small restaurants as “(necessities) in every community.”
Other Soup Burg patrons have taken the restaurant’s closing as a particular blow and, to a degree, a sign of a wider decay: “How far can we go with this? Are we just going to end up with a lot of banks?” added Henkin. Joie Anderson, another local devotee, chastises Mayor de Blasio, who in her eyes has allowed everything to “turn into a Duane Reade and a TD Bank.” For Anderson, these “mom and pop stores give character” to the area, and are welcome remedies to the ubiquitous Starbucks or Panera chains. At places like Starbucks, Anderson complains, there are different workers there every time you visit; Soup Burg, on the other hand, promises personalized attention, regularity, and consistency. “You go into Soup Burg and they act like you’re their favorite customer,” Anderson says, noting that such local joints keep “New York from being a suburban shopping mall.”
But as angry as Henkin, Anderson, and a slew of other customers are, Gouvakis, has been equal parts levelheaded and nostalgic. Recognizing that “a lot of people are upset,” Gouvakis acknowledged that this is “all part of business; it’s nothing personal against us.” Gouvakis, who owns Soup Burg with his two partners—his brother John and his brother-in-law Timmy—plans on relocating to somewhere else on the Upper East Side, an area they love and are now long familiar with.
In the meantime, Gouvakis spent Soup Burg’s final day serving up last meals, to people and dogs alike. Joking that in his next life he’d “rather live with dogs than most humans,” Gouvakis has been known to hand out bits of ham to neighborhood pets. Gouvakis also made one of his famous cheeseburgers for his mother. “It was a pleasure being here for ten years,” Gouvakis told me: “This was my second family.”
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