June 24, 2012
Nine months ago I had to close the original East Village Life Café. Today I am very sorry and sad to finally announce that I have to throw in my tea towel and close my second venue, Life Café 983 in Bushwick on June 30. A new café/bar will open immediately thereafter under a new name. I shall take a break from the restaurant business for the time being.
I know it’s hard to believe. After 30 years, in September 2011 I had to close my East Village café because I could no longer carry the huge business losses caused by the two warring landlords who fought over structural repairs to their property.
And a few months later the landlord of my thriving Bushwick café told me that he was not going to extend my lease.
That was the same landlord who in 2001 invited me to open a cafe in the building he just bought on Flushing Avenue. At the time, Bushwick looked like a post-apocalyptic industrial wasteland, with nowhere for existing and incoming artists and loft dwellers to eat or drink. He told me the incoming residents desperately needed a watering hole. He said having a café close to his buildings would attract the kind of tenants he wanted. It was the East Village story all over again and I saw it. Except profit wasn’t my motive. Rather, it was another chance to do what I seem to be naturally compelled to do: create a sense of home and connect the neighborhood folks together, offer a safe haven with comforting food and good drink at reasonable prices.
I’m very glad to say that in the end it worked. Yes, it was risky and definitely a struggle the first several years. But eventually Life became a second home for locals and newcomers alike and became the heart of the community much as the East Village Life Café had done in the early 80s. I have met many fine folk throughout the years and have watched as their lives unfolded along with the Café’s. And it was good.
I’ve finally come to terms with the events of the last year. My husband John and I have gotten over our disbelief, anger and sadness at losing both places in one year. We see it now as the Universe giving us a less than gentle nudge into semi-retirement. We’re looking forward to some “Adventures Before Dementia.”
About the new operation, I understand the new owners will make every effort to carry on the spirit of Life. They said, why change something that obviously works, that people like and want. They said they’d make some upgrades that are due and there will be new additions to the menu. And they recognize it’s important not to tamper with the special ambience of Life. In that sense, their intention is for Life Café to live on in spirit, if not in name.
All things come to an end in Life. I leave having created something unique, a bohemian legacy. John and I are now in our sixties and ready for a little R and R, to have a little more time doing the other things we’ve wanted to do.
My experiences during the last 30 years of Life are cause for celebration in the closing of both cafes. Running and owning my cafes has been more than a job. It’s been like having an extended family of staff, patrons and friends. We have made legions of them over the years. Life Café has always been about the relationship between the staff and patrons. A café is more than a place to eat and drink. It’s where special relationships are fostered and melded through conversation, laughter and camaraderie. That’s what a good café is. It’s far more than food and drink. It’s about human connection.
I would like to thank the hundreds of staff members for helping me give something great and unique to the city of New York and the hamlet of Bushwick. But the roll call is too long and no name is greater or lesser than another, for each and every one has played their unique part. But, let me tell you, the guys in the kitchen are the heart and bones of the Café. Any staff member will concur. Hector, who has run the Bushwick kitchen since before it opened and who worked for me at the East Village Café as well for years before, has been particularly exceptional. He has been the kitchen’s foundation. He never missed a beat and has been ever reliable and always amiable. On his strong back Life 983 found its feet and prospered. He and his staff have been the inspiration of the Café. There are more memories than can be mentioned here and many relationships built over time. I will miss you all and will never forget you. Life Café has always had a lot of love about it, and that I shall always have with me.
Please stop by in the next week to check out John’s Life Café Menu Picture Riddle art installation. It is the final one. We have a catalogue on premises and he’s offering the limited edition of originals at very special reduced prices. There will not be any more produced. He would like to leave as many pieces he possibly can with our friends in the Life community.
A last thought before I go; I didn’t make time for a family of my own. Instead, I made time for you. Thank you all for being a part of my family and thank you for allowing me to be a part of yours.
Much peace and love,