Hungry Harlem residents looking for celebrity chef Marcus Samuelsson’s cooking probably aren’t stopping at Harlem Gourmet deli—but some of Samuelsson’s employees are.
A month and a half after Samuelsson’s Red Rooster opened at 125th Street and Lenox Avenue, local businesses and residents say they’re adjusting to the impact of the buzzed-about eatery.
“It does give value to the area itself … so we have more [higher] class people around,” Sami Alrowhani, Harlem Gourmet’s owner, said.
Red Rooster employees have been visiting his deli during their lunch breaks, so he has already seen better business thanks to the new restaurant.
Surrounding businesses, from African merchandise stores to other restaurants, say they’re looking forward to a similar boost—though many said they haven’t seen it yet.
The restaurant has made overtures to the neighborhood, from the food, described as the roots of American cuisine influenced by the tradition of Harlem, to the prices, with entrees priced between $14 and $32.
Since opening in December, Red Rooster has created over 80 jobs. Harlem locals comprise 80 percent of its staff, according to a representative from the restaurant.
But while some Harlem residents have welcomed the award-winning chef to the neighborhood, others are opposed to the new clientele and prices which they say are still well outside the budget of locals.
“That’s too much to pay for any meal. They’re pushing it,” Orville Harrison said on his way to another restaurant up the street. “He [Samuelsson] took the chance… but he comes in charging that kind of money.”
Resident Annie Wiggins argues that the prices are fair.
“There’s nothing wrong with it. Thirty dollars isn’t bad for a meal,” Wiggins said, although she has yet to eat at the restaurant.
However, Cathy Spencer, a longtime resident of 137th Street, is skeptical of claims that the restaurant will benefit locals in the long run. To her, Red Rooster is another example of the neighborhood’s changing feel—one that she’s not comfortable with.
“This is not for us,” she said of Red Rooster. “It’s for the other people. If it was for us, it would have been here a long time ago.”
On a broader scale, Spencer said she felt that Harlem residents were being kicked out by encroaching retail development catering to the more affluent.
“Once you’ve been displaced from the brownstones that you’ve grown up in, where you going to go?” she added. “We don’t want to move from our neighborhood.”
However, other locals find claims like Spencer’s to be exaggerated.
Alrowhani said he has heard both sides of the gentrification argument from his customers, and has nothing against the restaurant’s presence. Harlem resident Marie Bee also looks favorably at Red Rooster, seeing it in its simplest form: a great restaurant.
“They serve a good meal,” Bee said. “It’s worth the money.”