By Michael Perlman
When we think of “Meet-up’ these days we picture a bunch of hipster or thirty-something techies networking to boost business or meet a venture capitalist, angel investor. This Meet-up in Forest Hills was anything but. Restaurant Row, a strip of independently owned restaurants on 70th Road between Austin Street and Queens Boulevard in Forest Hills, has been saved from the wrecking ball and residents turned out for a party.
In February 2016, a plan surfaced to redevelop much of Restaurant Row for a 12-story mixed-use building adjacent to Lane Tower. The future of The Grill, Cabana Restaurant & Bar, MoCa Asian Bistro, and Bangkok Cuisine was uncertain. But after a year-long ordeal the developer abandoned redevelopment plans. Over the past year residents worked at getting nearly 2,000 signatures on a petition and there was a good deal of opposition testimony to the development and support for ‘Restaurant Row’ at the Community Board #6 meetings.
On February 26, 2017 over 30 area residents gathered for a dinner at ‘The Grill’, a Mediterranean restaurant at 107-12 70th Road, in the heart of Forest Hills, for the “Saving Restaurant Row Meet-up.”
“The preservation of Restaurant Row is extremely important,” said attendee Jeannette Sinibaldi. “We get to know the owners and staff on a regular basis and they become friends we care about.
In addition to the food, Lou Michaels and his wife Marie performed songs “From Bach and The Beatles to Bacharach.”
“We are honored to be a part of this event, and we hope to expand our fan base and bring in revenue for Restaurant Row,” said Lou. “To see fine restaurants close for more development, it would change the aura of the neighborhood.”
“I was distressed to learn that this was going to be turned into (just another) major apartment building, which would have brought further traffic and congestion to an already packed block,” said Gloria Piraino. “Along Queens Boulevard we have malls and big-box stores, but here we need to preserve our small-town flavor. It keeps us friendly.”
“My first thought was relief followed by happiness, and then I felt really grateful to my neighbors and elected officials who helped the community achieve this victory,” said meet-up organizer Michele Dore.
After witnessing the closing of mom-and-pop shops for chain stores, banks, and medical offices, Dore created a Facebook group called Queens NY Businesses and Events, where she helped promote Restaurant Row.
“These are not chain restaurants,” she said. “They are owned and managed by people who invested not only money, but an amazing number of hours, efforts and dreams to make it happen.”
For Oleg Kaz, owning The Grill is a “labor of love.”
“If you ever owned and worked a restaurant in your life you can do anything, since I believe this is one of the most difficult businesses out there,” he said, “However, it is very pleasurable to make people happy with food and service.”
Kaz hopes the block’s current vacant spaces will find tenants.
“Having empty spaces in any neighborhood is very bad for business,” he said. “I really hope that the landlord will divide those large empty spaces to make way for smaller mom-and-pop restaurants.”
For Kim Phelan, a unique aspect of the strip is the personal touch of the restaurants.
“Gone are the days where you would sit on a bus and have a friendly chat with the person next to you,” she said. “There is an invisible shield that prevents you from making that connection, but now we have been blessed to have Michele Dore, who senses the separation in our community and brings us together while helping our small businesses.”
Check out the Facebook page: Queens NY Businesses and Events