Iconic eatery Gage & Tollner sees outpour of online support as pandemic postpones reopening

Restaurateurs (from left) Ben Schneider, Sohui Kim and St. John Frizell have seen an outpouring of support on their online shop.
Photo by Julianne Cuba

After the coronavirus pandemic halted the highly-anticipated resurrection of Downtown Brooklyn’s Gage & Tollner, the restaurateurs behind the iconic eatery have seen an outpouring of support on their online shop.

“It was crazy how much people are supporting us in the way of gift certificates,” said Sohui Kim, executive chef and one of the restaurant’s co-owners. “That is banking on the future of Gage & Tollner, so it’s just been really wonderful.”

The revival of the 1870s-era oyster and chop house caused a torrent of excitement when Kim, her husband Ben Schneider, and their business partner St. John Frizell announced they were aiming to bring the eatery back to Fulton Street, where it closed in 2004. 

“It was just this big thing that was building and everybody was so excited,” Kim said. “People would just sort of peek in and say ‘oh my god, is this place coming back.” 

The interior of the original Gage & Tollner in Downtown Brooklyn.Brooklyn Historical Society

But the triumphant return was foiled just two days before their scheduled grand opening, when the entrepreneurs postponed their plans as the virus began to grip the borough. Days later, Gov. Andrew Cuomo instituted his ongoing stay-at-home order. 

“We decided to postpone it because we knew at that point that it was bad enough. Not just like a week or two ordeal, but I am thinking if we just wait a couple of months, we can still have the grander opening,” Kim said. “We have to preserve this because it is history-making.” 

In the two months since the postponement, online sales of Gage & Tollner merchandise and gift certificates have buoyed the owners through the incomeless pandemic — as the inconvenient timing prevented them from opening for take-out and delivery. 

“I was just expecting both my sisters and some of my aunts and uncles to buy a tote bag, but it has been amazing,” Kim said. 

Their website is powered by BentoBox, an online hospitality platform based in Soho, which has lent a helping hand to many of the city’s restaurants through the coronavirus pandemic. 

“Restaurants could use this website as a digital property, an extension of their brick-and-mortar property where they can actually generate revenue,” said Krystle Mobayeni, one of the company’s co-founders. “That has become super important now with all of the brick-and-mortars being shut down and the website being a lifeline for the restaurant.”

The company has developed a variety of helpful resources for its clientele — including a search engine for those offering take-out and delivery, email templates to engage with customers amid the pandemic and a survey compiling data on reopening strategies. 

“We have teamed up with a lot of experts doing webinars, finding resources,” Mobayeni said. “We are also outside of the actual platform and technology just helping provide information and guidance where we can.” 

Meanwhile, the trio of restaurateurs are reimagining their grand opening considering the new regulations in place once eateries can begin serving diners again — a prospect scheduled for phase 3 of the governor’s reopening plan

“When it comes to reopening restaurants and officially opening Gage & Tollner, we do have to play by the rules that are so different now,” Kim said. “We have to have a playbook in place to safeguard our workers as well as the public. The real puzzle is how do we do this right.”