At on Monday night, everything seemed to be in place, the regulars ate Eggplant Parmesan and meatballs, and the owner, Irene LoRe, sat with friends at a big round table near the bar to eat a meal.
But earlier on Monday, a well written, heart felt letter appeared on the Fifth Avenue Business Improvement District’s blog, by no other than Irene LoRe, announcing that she will close the doors of her restaurant for good on January 1, 2012.
The homey, southern Italian restaurant, which is named after LoRe's mother, is considered a neighborhood pioneer for it opened in 1987 when Fifth Avenue was nothing but bodegas and drug dealers. But now, it is time for LoRe to retire.
“We’ve been here 25 years, but the restaurant business has changed dramatically. It is extremely hard to do business in New York City, it’s time to go,” said LoRe while in her restaurant Monday night. “It’s time for younger people with stronger constitutions to step up shop. I’m retiring, now I will only have one full-time job.”
LoRe is also the executive director of the Fifth Avenue Business Improvement District. She said she has watched Fifth Avenue turn from a crime-riddled strip to one “utterly saturated with bars and restaurants.”
She explained that there are about 120 bars and restaurants in the 30-block strip of the Fifth Avenue BID and 10 in just a two-block radius from Aunt Suzie’s.
For her, the city’s taxes on restaurants have gotten so knit-picky that they will “find anything to tax you on,” she said. “I have simply had enough.”
According to Lore the latest tax from the city was a $250 permit to have candles in the restaurant, which she thinks is totally out of line.
The mood in Aunt Suzie’s dim-lighted dining room was nostalgic as patrons related stories about their favorite neighborhood hangout.
“We’ve been regular customers every Monday for 15 years,” said Marty Einhorn while eating dinner. “What I have found is that the waiters have become our friends.”
Einhorn’s comrade, who said they never break their Monday night tradition, said January 1 will be a sad day for the neighborhood.
“This is a Park Slope institution and it will be sorely missed. It always gave you bang for a buck, but I guess its time has come,” said Kurt Roth as his waitress came up and asked, “Kurt, are you going to the concert this weekend?”
Other patrons said Aunt Suzie’s and LoRe are more than just a local restaurant and an owner:
“She’s a total neighborhood hero,” said Lisel Burns, the Leader Emeritus of the , who was also sitting at a table in Aunt Suzie’s on Monday. “People don’t know what it’s like to be in the restaurant business.”
She continued, saying Aunt Suzie’s is an example that all neighborhood institutions should follow.
“There are some important values people need to learn from community businesses versus businesses in the community,” Burns said, explaining that a community business like Aunt Suzie’s hires locals at living wages and other new ventures don’t. “Businesses have a choice if they want to support the community, Irene made that choice.”
Although Aunt Suzie’s has a dedicated stream of patrons, LoRe gave advice to foodies who don’t want to see their favorite grub joints close.
“If you want a business to be here next year, you need to patronize that business frequently,” said LoRe. “When I hear people say, ‘That’s my favorite restaurant!’ and I ask them when was the last time they went, they usually say, ‘Six months ago.’ That’s simply not enough.”
She said she is not closing her doors in defeat, but rather just because she thinks it’s time to rest.
“I have been doing this close to 30 years, this is a huge, huge decision. It’s huge for the neighborhood,” she said. “But don’t think I am not sad, I was speaking with the cook and I started to cry.”
Make sure to stop by Aunt Suzie's for the last supper, a buffet, on January 1, 2012.