Eateries worry something’s cooking for their corner | East Villager & Lower East Sider

Eateries worry something’s cooking for their corner

A low-rise cluster of small restaurants at E. Houston and Orchard Sts. is being eyed as a new development site.    Photo by Zach Williams

A low-rise cluster of small restaurants at E. Houston and Orchard Sts. is being eyed as a new development site. Photo by Zach Williams

BY ZACH WILLIAMS  |  One East Village landlord remains quiet as community concerns grow that development will envelop the corner of E. Houston and Orchard Sts. that he owns.

Sam Mangano, owner of parcels at 187 E. Houston St. and 196-198 Orchard St., has taken several steps toward making more money out of the properties. Insurance investigators conducted an audit of the properties two weeks ago, and one business owner received an offer from Mangano seeking to buy out the remaining five years of his lease.

However, current tenants remain largely unaware of what plans are in store for the space in which their businesses operate. Mangano, who owns Houston Real Estate No. 2, did not respond to multiple phone calls and a written letter from The Villager requesting comment.

“He’s very evasive,” said Phillip Barraza, who owns the taqueria at 198 Orchard St. with his wife, Andrea. He said that in a recent meeting, he refused the landlord’s monetary offer for a buyout. Mangano told him that online rumors that Magnum Real Estate Group would buy the property were untrue, Barraza said. The landlord added that he intended to swap current tenants for national retailers, according to Barraza.

“We have to let him know that we are not interested in leaving,” the taqueria owner added.

The restaurateur has retained legal counsel in order to resist any effort to remove his business from the property and replace it with a new development, which, he claimed, was the “not-so-well-kept secret” behind Mangano’s recent actions.

“I have no problem battling this out in public,” Barraza stated.

City records indicate the properties are still owned by Mangano. More than a half-dozen messages left at an office number for Ben Shaoul, the president of Magnum, went unanswered. An assistant there said she could not confirm whether the company was in talks to acquire property from Mangano.

Other proprietors at the location said they have heard nothing from the landlord even as insurance inspectors entered their businesses. Turgut Sulo, the owner of Bereket Turkish Kebab House, said “many people” have been coming by the shop recently checking things on behalf of the landlord. However, Sulo said he has been unable to discern what it means for the location of the business he has overseen for two decades.

“We don’t know what is going on here,” he said.

A manager of AAA Ichiban Sushi, which sits between the kebab house and the taqueria, briefly showed a written notice of such an inspection to this reporter, who she mistakenly assumed represented Mangano.

“The landlord has not contacted us. So we haven’t heard anything,” she said in Mandarin Chinese before declining to comment further on the issue.

Additional inquiries made at adjacent businesses were referred to the owner of Ray’s Pizza, at 195 E. Houston St., who is Sam Mangano. Visits and phone calls to the establishment did not yield a comment from him.

Longtime Bereket customers expressed concern that they would lose a regular haunt in an area that has lost other family and immigrant-run businesses to expanding real estate development in the recent past.

Halil Ocak, a taxi driver from Midwood, said he comes almost daily to the eatery, which is one of the few places in Manhattan where he can speak his native Turkish.

A mother-daughter pair from Spanish Harlem meanwhile come every week for the lentil soup and the familiar atmosphere where they know the warmest spot is always right in front of the counter.

Ida Lincoln, the daughter, said the customer service and cuisine make them regulars. Losing the restaurant would disrupt a routine going back to her school days in the East Village, she added.

“That would be a shame,” said her mother, Kaye.