Local restaurant owners are banding together to promote the up-and-coming restaurant industry in Morningside Heights and West Harlem.
Savona Bailey-McClain, the former chair of Community Board 9’s Economic Development Committee, founded the West Harlem Food and Beverage Association in January in an effort to bring attention to restaurants between 110th and 145th streets and from the Hudson River to St. Nicholas Avenue.
When the community board was looking for a boat operator to work out of the recently renovated West Harlem Piers Park, operators were reluctant to come to West Harlem, Bailey-McClain said, because they didn’t think the area could attract visitors.
The Food and Beverage Association is Bailey-McClain’s attempt to show outside businesses otherwise, beginning with the neighborhood’s restaurant scene.
“If they’re not familiar with the area, they’re not going to know where to go,” Bailey-McClain said. “You’ve got to show people where the restaurants are.”
Arnold Boatner, chair of Community Board 9’s Waterfronts, Parks, and Recreation Committee, said that Harlem’s shifting demographics have contributed to growth in the restaurant scene. The area is home to an increasing number of young people with financial means.
“People who are younger and who are affluent are looking for places to dine,” Boatner said. “Places like Harlem Public—if you go there, you’ll see a lot of young professionals.”
The Food and Beverage Association currently has 20 members, spanning Morningside Heights and West Harlem, and while most of them are restaurants and cafés, Bailey-McClain hopes to bring in representatives from other parts of the industry, including florists and food stylists. Still, the association’s membership is diverse, ranging from fixtures like Toast to restaurants that are just getting started.
More established members, like Havana Central, are already involved with trade associations. The restaurant’s other locations, in Times Square and Yonkers, are active in their neighborhoods.
“Our UWS location did not have the same sort of specialized a nd localized community to be a part of, and the WHFBA really met that need for us,” Tanya Castaneda, Havana Central’s marketing and social media manager, said in an email.
Newer restaurants see the association as helping them find their footing. Lauren Lynch, the owner of Harlem Public—a bar on 149th Street and Broadway—looks to the association as a way to get to know other businesses.
“We’re still in the soft opening stages right now, but there are things to be said about strength in numbers and bringing attention to the west side of Harlem,” Lynch said. “The best thing about the WHFBA is it brings business owners in the same area into the same room to discuss challenges and look to the future.”
Some members say they are already benefiting from joining the association. Rahel Tekeste, the manager of Massawa—an Eritrean and Ethiopian restaurant on 121st and Amsterdam—said that since joining, “there has been a definite growth in clientele, and I’m sure we’re going to see more.”
Other restaurant owners, though, haven’t seen results yet. Ifan Chang, co-owner of Jin Ramen and Chokolat, said that since the association is still in its infancy, it’s “too early to tell what it can do for its members.”