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North Brooklyn’s bars and restaurants gain new support from revitalized BABAR

BABAR event
Brooklyn Allied Bars and Restaurants, or BABAR, is gearing up for some changes as Brooklyn’s eateries settle into a “new normal,” dealing with the lingering affects of COVID-mandated closures and ongoing supply issues. The group returned for its first in-person event in over two years on Sept. 13.
Caroline Ourso

Last week, a group of local bar and restaurant owners, elected officials and neighbors gathered in McCarren Park for the first in-person annual meeting of the Brooklyn Allied Bars and Restaurants in over two years. A lot has changed in that time, most of it spurred by the pandemic — some longstanding restaurants were forced to close and leave the neighborhood, leaving behind open spaces that have since welcomed new eateries. Those who weathered the challenging stretch of time have been forced to adapt and learn to deal with the new normal.

A lot has changed at BABAR, too. The 11-year-old organization was first formed by a group of local restauranteurs and businessowners who had first come together to raise some money for a community center in Williamsburg, said Dave Rosen, one of those original founders. They decided to organize “for the sake of industry” in the neighborhood and put together a rapidly-growing online community of bar and restaurant workers.

BABAR event
Brooklyn’s already-thriving community of bars and restaurants has gotten even larger in recent years, said Dave Rosen, BABAR’s founder, and the group wants to welcome newcomers and reinforce the community of old-timers in need of resources and support. Caroline Ourso

BABAR initially served as a place where people could meet their peers and get advice and recommendations on everything from equipment to plumbers, Rosen said, and eventually, the group entered the world of political advocacy — working to advance legislation that would benefit the industry and its workers. Over time, the online group grew to include more than 700 people from all over the city.

The leadership of the now elementary-school aged group has been ever-changing, Rosen said, and recently welcomed some new members: Ronan Daly and Dhruv Chopra, who also both serve on the North Brooklyn Chamber, who are stepping in as Rosen and Kirby step back.

“I joined BABAR maybe four years ago, and it’s an amazing resource,” Daly said. “It’s awesome for everything as little as knowing the health department is doing an inspection a block away or for helping understand tax codes or insurance.”

Most of Daly’s work has been in music, he said, whether that was at music venues or bars and restaurants with live entertainment.

“Part of what Dave and Felice saw was that I was somebody that understood everything from noise violations to working with the community to working with precincts,” he said, referring to one of the other founders, Felice Kirby. 

BABAR became perhaps even more of a crucial resource during the pandemic, as bar and restaurant owners struggled to keep up with ever-changing guidelines and restrictions all while trying to make enough revenue to keep their doors open. But even that tight-knit virtual group couldn’t replace the feeling of BABAR’s old regular meetings, Daly said.

“One thing that we saw that was awesome last week was just the amount of feedback we got for just meeting in person, it’s a support network of like-minded people with similar experiences and can help with a range of things, that was huge,” he said. “Because, again, it existed as just a Google Group. It can be so much more than that.”

people talk at BABAR meeting
Restaurant and bar owners are still dealing with loss of revenue and supply chain issues, said BABAR leader Ronan Daly, but there’s also an influx of new restaurants and excited new customers. Caroline Ourso

The event featured many new faces among the restaurant veterans, Daly said. A lot of new bars and restaurants have popped up in Brooklyn, and their owners are looking for community and resources. Even as restrictions are lifting and many businesses have come back full-force, the industry is still dealing with the long-term impacts of the pandemic.

“Costs are still insanely high, rent, distributors are maybe even more difficult, vendors have been replaced, a lot of inventory has to be outsourced,” he said. “One thing that we’re experiencing is it’s hard and it’s unreliable to get a lot of major inventory. We never really had that uncertainty before.”

But, there are benefits, too, like a new and hungry customer base. There’s an influx of new New Yorkers, he said, but old-timers are also newly enthusiastic about venturing out to explore their neighborhoods.

“There’s new life all around, both on the owner side and then also on the consumer side,” Daly said.

Going forward, Daly hopes to keep hosting in-person events and building on the community and work Kirby and Rosen have already built. He also wants to increase the organization’s efforts in lawmaking and advocacy, he said, something Rosen fully embraced during the pandemic.

“We also played a pretty instrumental role in federal legislation, personally advising Senator Schumer and working with his office for a good year and a half, two years, on adjustments on the Paycheck Protection Program, the Shuttered Venues Operators Grant, and the Restaurant Relief Fund,” Rosen said. “I think because of our presence and being hyperlocal, and the senator being from Brooklyn, he personally called me in April of 2020 and really committed to helping and delivered.”

There are larger-scale organizations with similar missions, but none work at such a hyperlocal level, he said, connecting with community boards, police precincts, and more. BABAR has raised at least half a million dollars for various causes in the neighborhood at fundraisers over the years, Rosen added.

Going forward, he hopes to coach the new leadership as they step into their new roles, reinforce relationships with existing businessowners, and build new ones with all the new people in the neighborhood.

BABAR event
Daly invited local elected officials, including councilmember Lincoln Restler, at left, to speak at the event, meet local restauranteurs and learn about their concerns. Caroline Ourso

“There really is a new crop of owner-operators, particularly after the pandemic as well,” Rosen said. “So just bringing all those people into the fold and recognizing the evolution, changes, and being respectful to our new neighbors and new industry members, and learning more about what everyone’s doing and what’s going on.” 

Last week’s event in the park was a good place to start, Daly said, serving to “remind” everyone of BABAR’ s physical presence and connect with each other. They partnered with a few local nonprofits — the North Brooklyn Angels and Churches United for Fair Housing — as well as the North Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce for the event, and invited local elected officials to come speak and meet their restaurant-owning constituents.

“It was just kind of a celebration and a reinvigoration of what BABAR can become,” he said. “And, again, there’s such a powerful potential there, there’s 700 restaurant and bar owners across the city. It’s a continuation of what we’ve already built. What I would love to see is more of a focus on community — we’re already talking to a couple different local organizations for November, for a Thanksgiving event. That, I’d love to do every couple months.”

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