Restaurant Owners Fondly Recall Decades in the Community
For all the rapid in change in Brooklyn, some streets have delightfully stayed the same.
On Henry Street in North Brooklyn Heights, many restaurant owners fondly recall their decades in the community, and the tight bonds they’ve created with generations of customers since first hanging their shingle.
Jim Montemarano opened an eponymous restaurant at 35 Cranberry Street two days before Christmas in 1977. His mother and sister were a “very big part of the operation,” he said, and helped him get off the ground, converting what was originally a “gourmet store” into a more routine sandwich shop, while also providing catering services and a bakery. A move to Henry Street in 1980 proved fortuitous, with several other businesses coming into their own around the same time. Jim’s seen some changes–moving cars for alternate-side parking used to also involve taking stock of broken windows and stolen radios–but for the most part, things have just been steady.
“It’s definitely been a family affair,” Montemarano said. “I was able to raise five children through the work I put into this place. And they each worked here at some point along the way. I had them take orders by talking to the customers eye-to-eye. They would stand on milk crates behind the counter, to see over the register.”
Before he arrived, the location Montemarano occupies sat empty for some time, but then was run shortly as a Greek Diner. Later, an upscale sit-down cafe called Upper Crust “would have worked today, but was too ahead of its time,” he said.
“It was too nice, too soon,” Montemarano said. “As fate would have it, this became the spot for me.”
The Brooklyn Eagle, which once had offices on this street, has previously chronicled the retail resurgence of Henry Street in recent years, as well as certain prescient old-timers like Antonio Migliaccio of Noodle Pudding. But for others, their success is admittedly less about foretelling the future as it was about taking a chance, and being in the right place at the right time.
Mark Lahm is one such entrepreneur, having worked at “Henry’s End” since 1973, starting as a buser and dishwasher, but later transitioning to cook. He saved up and bought the restaurant in 1986.
“I love it here–the neighborhood has been great to me,” Lahm said. “It’s a relaxing, small town atmosphere where you really get to know your neighbors. Plus walking to work is a nice perk.”
In 2009, business was so good that Lahm even partnered with Montemarano to open Brooklyn Heights Wine Bar at the corner of Henry and Cranberry Streets in 2009.
“It’s a baby, only five and a half years old,” Lahm said, while admitting that so far things have gone very well.
Previously, the corner location had been everything from a coffee shop, a kids play area, a cuban restaurant, a different wine bar, and a hippie wholesale grocer with an affinity for roaming shop cats.
Despite the constant stream of regular businesses and customers alike, some changes are afoot. Beloved Chinese restaurant Su-Su’s Yum-Yum vacated the southwestern corner of Henry and Cranberry several years ago, leading to some to relegate the location as a “cursed corner.” But upscale eatery Bevacco soon took up the lease and has remained ever since.
Other changes include the conversion of the Mason Mints Building and even the former Police Precinct into residential condominiums.
“It’s always been pretty upscale, but it exploded in the last ten years,” Lahm said. “[Brooklyn Bridge] Park has done a lot for the neighborhood. Some people say it’s bad, others say it’s good. For us it’s brought a lot of people to the neighborhood. There ‘s a constant influx of new people.”