May 18, 2022

New York restaurateurs see opportunity amid pandemic

A second shot at a privileged spot

Noam Grossman was eyeing the corner of Spring and Mulberry streets in late 2019.

The business of Upside Pizza, an above-average slice store on Eighth Avenue at West 39th Street that opened in January 2019, was on an upward trajectory in terms of sales, reviews and New York Times critics, and Grossman, a co-founder, was looking around town for his next locations, including Broadway in NoMad and Brooklyn.

But he really wanted the Nolita corner, then the Pomodoro site, a slice shop that attracted downtown crowds, especially late at night.

“It’s just an iconic turn,” Grossman said. “There’s an incredible foot traffic, a tourist presence, and it’s in the lunch hall of SoHo.”

The owner asked for more than Grossman and his co-founders Eli and Oren Halali, owners of the 2 Bros. dollar slice pizza chain, were willing to pay.

Then came the pandemic and the closure of the city’s dining halls. Pomodoro has closed its doors. In May, the owner got back in touch.

Grossman and the Halalis were still interested, “but we weren’t the same buyers as before,” Grossman said. A new contract called for lower rents and a three-year ramp-up period before the full amount was due, with a 40% discount in the first year and a 20% discount in the second.

“We thought this would give us the time we needed to stabilize and get the store to a place where it was not just running to pay the rent, but also to make a profit,” Grossman said. They signed the lease in September 2020 and opened in early May after a renovation.

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Business is 90% of the way to its goal. Although the weekdays are quieter, on Saturdays the location sells 3,000 slices of homemade mozzarella and sourdough dough naturally developed by Adam Falco, founder of Roberta’s.

To generate more profit for expensive real estate, the Upside team reserved 150 square feet for a second concept. After deliberation, they opted for Softside, a soft serve ice cream store, in the carve-out and plan to open it in January.

Nolita’s location wasn’t their only pandemic game. In May, Upside opened at 20 E. 40th St., betting that lunchtime activities at the Midtown East office would return eventually. Next month, Upside plans to sign a lease for space on Manhattan Avenue in Greenpoint, for a store that would open in March.

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