Veselka, the beloved East Village Ukrainian diner, plans to bring its authentic pierogies and borscht to Brooklyn — maybe even before the year is out.
The nearly 70-year-old eatery is making plans to take over a 5,000-square-foot space in Williamsburg, as first reported by the New York Post. Jason Birchard — Veselka’s co-owner and the grandson of the founding owners — told Brooklyn Paper the deal isn’t quite final, but expects to have everything set in stone “very soon.” Once the lease is signed, the team will announce the exact location of the new restaurant.
“We’ve always talked about how we’re going to take Veselka to the next level, besides just a renovation here,” Birchard said, referring to Veselka’s flagship location on 2nd Avenue. “Another stick in the fire that we had was a grander space in Brooklyn.”
Before Russia invaded Ukraine last year, the family had been planning to close the 2nd Avenue location temporarily for long-needed repairs and renovations — the eatery has been operating in the same space nonstop since it opened in 1954. But when the war broke out, Veselka — one of few Ukrainian businesses left in a part of the East Village that used to be known as “Little Ukraine” became a hub for the local Ukrainian-American community and its supporters.
As Ukrainian flags went up all over New York City — and all over Veselka — the eatery started raising money for the relief effort in Ukraine. Elected officials dined at the restaurant in a show of support, and, often, the line to get in the front door wraps around the corner. Veselka is a semifinalist for the James Beard Outstanding Restaurant Award, spurred by its food, atmosphere, and contributions to the community.
When the “outpouring of love and support” began, the family decided to table the closure for a while, Birchard said. His cousin, Justin, recently moved back to the city from Los Angeles to help run the restaurant, and the two started brainstorming ideas for expansion. In 2018, a quick-service Veselka outpost with a limited menu opened in The Market Line on Delancey Street. A second quick-service location is planned for Grand Central Station, which is undergoing a major renovation thanks to the East Side Access project.
Then came the opportunity to jump across the East River, to Williamsburg. As soon as the Brooklyn location opens, the 2nd Avenue restaurant will finally close for renovation.
“Having an outpost in Brooklyn or Williamsburg has always been a dream of ours,” Birchard said. “I have different vendors and friends that have locations in Williamsburg and they’re all doing very well there. Maybe I’m a little late to the game, but I’m very excited to be there.”
Williamsburg is also in close proximity to the East Village location, Birchard said, so transporting goods there will be easy — and it should be a quick trip for die-hard Veselka fans via the L train.
In addition to the larger kitchen and dining space, the Williamsburg location will feature a larger retail space offering goods similar to those offered on Veselka’s website — clothes, water bottles, and more decked out in the yellow-and-blue Ukrainian flag, plus Veselka-branded plates and cookware.
Brooklyn is home to one of the largest Ukrainian populations in Eastern Europe — Brighton Beach, in the southern part of the nabe, has been dubbed “Little Odessa,” and support for Ukrainians has spread across the borough. Around 14,000 Ukrainian refugees have settled in Brooklyn since the beginning of the war, according to the governor’s office.
Birchard said he hopes the Williamsburg location will be open before the end of the year – but he can’t promise anything, given the slow pace of permitting and construction. He’ll have more information once the least is signed and things are moving along.
“We’re very excited,” he said. “What’s happening in Ukraine is tragic and depressing, and we’re very hopeful for a peaceful end, and we’re going to continue making and serving Ukrainian soul food. Our hashtag is Ukrainian soul food in the heart of the East Village, we’re going to now say Ukrainian soul food made in the heart of Williamsburg.”