Downtown is soul-less!

Downtown is soul-less!
Despite more than a year of promises to open, the owners of Amy Ruth’s soul food restaurant, a Harlem standout, now say they will not open on the Fulton Mall in Downtown Brooklyn.
The Brooklyn Paper / Michael Lipkin

The legendary Harlem fried-chicken-and-waffles joint, Amy Ruth’s, may not open in Downtown as planned, leaving many soul-food-lovers empty-stomached.

The popular eatery had signed a lease in October for the space in the former Gage & Tollner site on the Fulton Mall between Red Hook Lane and Jay Street, but last week, signs appeared in the window that city marshals had seized the property on behalf of the landlord — typically an indication that rent had not been paid.

If so, that’s no surprise: No one has heard from anyone tied to Amy Ruth’s in several months and the restaurant missed several announced “Opening Day” events.

The real-estate broker on the deal, Robert Hebron, said he had not spoken with the landlord, nor had he heard anything from the restaurant’s owner, Lawrence Jordan.

One source said the restaurant owners, the Morning Star Restaurant Group, have “all but fallen off the map.”

When Jordan was reached by The Brooklyn Paper by phone, he refused to comment on the situation, but promised to call back. He never did, and didin’t answer voice messages left at his number.

The landlord, Joe Jemal, did not return phone calls for comment.

But why the restaurant — whose first location is in the heart of Harlem — decided against opening on Fulton Mall, the city’s third-largest retail district and popular in the black community, remains a mystery to local leaders.

“Everybody was very excited about it … and we thought that Amy Ruth’s could be very successful here,” said Metrotech Business Improvement District Executive Director Michael Weiss. “The demographics there would have been perfect for them.”

The original Amy Ruth’s opened on West 116th Street ten years ago and names its Southern-style dishes after African-American community leaders. The “Rev. Al Sharpton” waffle is the legendary plate of either fried or “smothered” chicken and waffles, and the Councilwoman Inez Dickens plate is healthier 5-grain waffles.

But worry not, foodies, — whatever happens to the space, the next tenant will most likely be a restaurant, Hebron said.

“It’s landmarked inside, and I don’t know what else you can put in there,” he said.

The Landmarks Preservation Council designated the restaurant’s interior grand floor dining room as a landmark in 1975, which included fixed pieces like the arched mirrors, deep red cherry wood paneling, and the 36 famous gas lamps. The building’s exterior was landmarked in 1974.

Amy Ruth’s would have sat in the midst of a development boom in Downtown and would have attracted hordes of people to the Fulton Mall. The hungry masses said they would have come.

“We could use more soul food in this neighborhood — it’s a great location with all the retail around here,” said Steven Bundy, a social worker from Bedford-Stuyvesant. “I absolutely would have checked it out. It’s a shame.”

Gage & Tollner, one of Brooklyn’s legendary eateries, opened in 1879 and was at its Fulton Street location from 1892 until it closed in 2004. It soon reopened as one of the fanciest T.G.I. Friday’s in the nation.

That restaurant closed in 2007, but when the owners of Harlem’s Amy Ruth’s announced a plan to create a Brooklyn beachhead for their restaurant, locals were drooling with anticipation.

But a Valentine’s Day, 2008 opening day came and went, as did several more announced openings, until last week’s marshals notices went up.

— with Michael Lipkin

c_This story was updated on August 27, 2008 at 9:45 pm.

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