There have been many of them this year, yes? I’ve referred to this summer as The Summer of Death, but celebrity deaths aside, this would include the many magazine titles and NYC restaurants that have folded and closed as well. We all know which ones. Included on that list are 2 which have given me great pause, the first of which was an early inspiration to our business, and the most recent, which we found out today, was where Mark basically started his career as a chef here in NY.
During the early infancy months when we were brainstorming for what was to become W&S, I came across a food blog called Lovescool which would eventually spawn the bakery, Amai Tea and Bake House in Gramercy Tavern. In many ways, Amai was sort of our business model, and like some of you who were curious about how we started the business, I was curious about how Amai evolved from a blog to a small online and wholesale business to a storefront and bakery in Manhattan. I pored through Kelli’s blog. Her trajectory towards owning a shop after sending out those first packages of brownies seemed meteoric in speed. Her shop and pretty tea cookies always seemed to be in the press. But less than 2 years after opening shop, she closed down earlier this Spring. The shop didn’t make it.
Today we learned that a restaurant where Mark had spent 6 years of his career was closing this week. Zoe was a popular restaurant on Prince Street in Soho. It was a staple in that neighborhood – reliable, great food, nice brunch, good atmosphere and despite the 2 other upscale restaurants further uptown that the owners tried to open but which eventually failed, it seemed like Zoe would be on Prince Street forever. After 18 years, however, we learned that they are calling it quits. Now, if you were to look at Mark’s resume, pretty much every single place where he has worked except for Zoe, his brief stint at Aquavit due to 9/11 and the Central Park Boathouse has closed in the 13 years he’s been working in the industry so he’s no stranger to hearing this bit of news. But Zoe was different. It was the restaurant where he began apprenticing in pastry (Mark never went to culinary school) and where he probably had the most fun working with a core crew of talented young chefs who to this day, remain his friends despite the fact that everyone is scattered in different parts of the country. This was the late 90s when life seemed so much simpler, carefree and fun. I was in grad school at NYU, we were living in the East Village and I would often come sit at the chef’s counter at Zoe’s, which had an open kitchen. This too began my fascination with restaurant kitchens. It was fun to watch all the cooking action and chef antics from where I was sitting. We’d often go out after the restaurant closed around 1am, to get a drink or a bite to eat with the other cooks and chefs. After working for a bit at a few other restaurants, Mark later returned and became the Pastry Chef in 2000-2001.
I can’t remember the last time we ate at Zoe. It was probably when he was still Chef there, but being that it’s on one of the main drags in Soho, we’d walk by it all the time, sometimes peering in with curiosity, but most times just registering it in our peripheral vision. It’ll be weird to see the storefront of long wood frame windows shuttered down. Come Friday, another NYC stand-by will be gone. A place that will always hold nostalgic significance, which helped mold Mark’s career in the early days, will have closed.