Fair shake: Longtime vegan ice cream shop may get to renew lease thanks to community effort

Fair shake: Longtime vegan ice cream shop may get to renew lease thanks to community effort
Photo by Dale Charles

The owner of a Prospect Lefferts Gardens vegan ice cream parlor may not get booted from his Flatbush Avenue storefront of 34-years, after more than 1,400 fans of the eatery’s non-dairy delicacies signed a petition demanding the restaurant be allowed to stay.

“We cannot lose the place that introduced us to cleaner eating and educating us on who we are as a people,” wrote one woman, who signed the petition as Saronda G.

Landlord Lawrence Bernstein made contact with Scoops and Plates Eatery Owner Tony Fongyit Tuesday morning after previously ghosting his tenant for months, and then demanding he pack up and leave earlier this month, and the property owner confirmed via email that he’s now willing to negotiate a lease extension.

“Agents for the owners have reached out to… the tenant to have discussions regarding a possible lease renewal,” Bernstein wrote.

Fongyit, who opened Scoops and Plates Eatery in 1985, had been struggling to get in contact with Bernstein — who purchased the property near Chester Court where Scoops is located in 2015 — after his long-term lease expired in November.

Since then, the eco-friendly ice cream purveyor says he’s paid his rent faithfully, while claiming Bernstein has deliberately ignored his repeated petitions to renew their agreement.
The matter turned desperate earlier this month, when Fongyit received notice that his landlord wanted him out within 30 days, giving him until June 1 to pack up and leave — and still without any explanation why he was getting the boot.

“I just want a reason,” said Fongyit earlier this week. “It’s very disrespectful. I’m hurting from my head to my toes right now.”

In a last chance bid to keep his longtime storefront, the restaurateur enlisted the aid of both the Parkside Empire Flatbush Avenue Merchants Association and non-profit advocacy group Impacct Brooklyn, which dispatched lawyers demanding Bernstein give his tenant a fair shake, according to one Impacct member.

“If it’s a rent increase let him know to see if he can afford it, but he’s giving him no reason after 34 years,” said Dale Charles, director of economic development and commercial leasing at Impacct Brooklyn. “I know they don’t have to give a reason, but that’s not good enough.”

The Prospect Lefferts Gardens Neighborhood Association joined the fight to save Scoops by creating the petition that quickly generated hundreds of signatures from longtime fans of the eatery, many of whom can’t remember a time without Fongyit’s dairy-free creams.

“I’ve been going to Scoops all my life for ice cream,” wrote Kareem B. “It’s also one of the best places to get my favorite vegan food.”

Charles cautioned that, while the email that both she and Fongyit got from Bernstein Tuesday was the most contact either of them have had with the landlord — ever — that it’s still too early to celebrate, and the pair haven’t received any written commitment from the landlord to call off the vacate order.

“I’m happy, I’m excited, but I’m still on hold until I can get something in writing,” she said.

Reach reporter Colin Mixson at cmixson@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260-4505.