Merchants say restaurant will boost business for all
The neighborhood’s first white-tablecloth restaurant plans to open in a new mall near the Hunts Point Avenue subway stop in the fall of 2015.
A 9,000-square-foot Red Lobster capable of serving up to 312 customers will occupy the second floor of the planned Crossings mall at 925 Hunts Point Avenue, where a BP gas station currently operates.
Members of Community Board 2 and the managers of nearby stores expressed excitement over the benefits and the foot traffic they think the restaurant will bring to the commercial area.
“It will help bring up our economy. People will want to come shop and eat. This is an attraction the community needs,” said Rafael Salamanca, the community board’s district manager.
Maria Torres, who heads the board’s economic development committee, agreed. “It’s a step towards revitalizing the area and making Hunts Point a better place,” she said, adding that the restaurant would boost other businesses and increase job opportunities for residents.
“In terms of employing people, this is what we want to see,” said Torres.
At a December community board meeting, a representative of the holding company that owns Red Lobster told the board the company will work with them to hire locally.
“Our goal is always to hire in the community,” said Jeff Tattersall, director of operations for Darden Restaurants.
The restaurant will employ more than 200 workers, including managers, servers, cooks and bartenders, he said.
Last Christmas season, the stores on Southern Boulevard were in the doldrums. Retailers felt that they were losing shoppers to commercial areas with more brand name businesses. Many of them now believe the mall and its flagship restaurant will give them a needed boost.
“You have people come in town to do a little business or just to visit, and there you have a nice place to eat after,” said Darame Bakare, a sales associate at EXPO 2000, a clothing store for women at 953 Southern Blvd.
A few stores down, Maggie Rem, floor manager of the childrens clothing and toy store Regine Kids, said, “It is definitely going to bring customers into the area. Say you want to have a nice lunch or dinner, they’ll come to the big restaurant that’s here and after they’ll drop by here to do a little shopping.”
Medina Sadiq, the director of the Southern Boulevard Business Improvement District and a member of the community board, says property owners are excited about the prospect of a major restaurant serving as a magnet for street life that could help boost sales.
“A Red Lobster could bring a little bit of nightlife,” said Sadiq. “Now, everything shuts down around 6 or 7.”
But at least one small area restaurant is worried about the competition.
“This is a part of town where people aren’t looking to pay that much,” said Gracia Ortega, the manager of Real Azteca, a small Mexican restaurant a block away from the site of the new mall. “They want something nice, yet affordable.”
Real Azteca has been serving inexpensive quesadillas for more than 20 years, and Ortega said she was hopeful that her clientele would stay loyal.
“A dish priced at 20 dollars scares people away here,” she said. “God knows if I’ll still have the same amount of customers, but a restaurant like that doesn’t work in this area of the Bronx.”
Construction on the new mall is scheduled to begin in the coming weeks, and will start with a clean-up of the BP gas station.
So far, two other chains have signed agreements to move into the Crossings in 2015: A Deals discount store that will share the second floor with Red Lobster, and a McDonald’s on the ground floor.
When the site’s developer, the Prusik Group, first presented its plan to build the new mall to the community board in 2010, it hoped to include 136 mixed income apartments on a vacant lot next door, but has since scrapped that part of the plan.
Additional reporting by Joe Hirsch