News | West Harlem

Condominium residents express concern with proposed taqueria on Frederick Douglass

  • Deborah Secular for Spectator
    HUNGRY FOR ANSWERS | Condominium residents at 115th Street and Frederick Douglass Boulevard hope that Made En Harlem, a new taqueria and art gallery, doesn't end up becoming a bar that attracts a late-night crowd.

Condominium residents at 115th Street and Frederick Douglass Boulevard are hoping that the taqueria opening soon on the ground floor will be able to stick to the plans outlined on its liquor license, which was approved last week by Community Board 10.

The liquor license characterized Made En Harlem, a combined taqueria and art gallery, as a sit-down restaurant with no live music. But now condominium residents are worried that the taqueria will end up becoming a bar that attracts a late-night party crowd.

The restaurant is the latest in a slew of businesses opening in Harlem on Frederick Douglass Boulevard. Despite the welcomed increase in development in the area, condominium owners said they are unsure of owner Jose Morales’ plans for the space. 

“We have no objections to the restaurant—we just have doubts that the restaurant is buildable,” Hal Newell, president of the Harlem Horizon condominium board, said. 

Newell, representing the board, told CB10 that he worried about the building’s ventilation and soundproofing.

Prospective owner of Made En Harlem, Jose Morales, is still waiting for the required state approval of the liquor license before moving forward. 

“I just kept trying to tell the community board that we’re not there for any other reason than the application of a liquor license,” he said.

Morales said the residents’ pushback was misplaced. 

“They shouldn’t have an opinion,” he said. “They’re not an agency; they’re just owners of the property.”

John Lynch, co-chair of CB10’s economic development committee, agreed. 

“Those are really questions that the building department will address,” he said, referring to residents’ concerns about the restaurant’s structural feasibility. “Those are steps that come down the road.”

Still, Morales didn’t wish to alienate residents, who he said are simply “protecting their investment.”

“My job as a tenant is to get along with the owners, and that’s what we’re hoping we can get done,” he said. “I have a 15-year lease; I don’t want to start off on a bad foot.”

Sophie Park, a condominium resident, said she worries the restaurant will turn into a bar if ventilation problems get in the way of a full kitchen.

“I think we all need to understand that the liquor license was passed for a narrow mandate,” she said. “To the extent that that’s not what actually happens, then the liquor license should be revoked.”

Lynch noted that because liquor licenses must be renewed every two years, the community board would have a chance to review whether guidelines were being met. If they weren’t, “that would potentially impact whether we would support their renewal,” he said. ‘

“We expect the restaurant to operate, in fact, according to what they presented to us.”

Residents also voiced concerns about the restaurant’s proposed hours of operation, which extend to 1 a.m. on weekends. 

“We’ve objected to the hours—we don’t think they’re in line with the other restaurants on Frederick Douglass Boulevard,” said Newell, who plans to send a letter to the New York State Liquor Authority recommending 11 p.m. as a “more appropriate” closing time.

Lynch, however, said that 1 a.m. “didn’t strike us as unusual, given the area.”

Lynch instead focused on the economic development the restaurant could bring to the area, especially in light of Morales’ promises to hire from the local community.

And Morales, who also plans to source local art to supply the restaurant’s gallery, sees his business as a step in the right direction given recent trends of gentrification in Harlem. 

“We have to invest in our communities when we get the opportunity,” he said, “If not, big corporate businesses are going to open.”

Park said her concern about noise and safety is “heightened” as a parent.

“I’m all for this neighborhood developing—I think it adds to the value of our home and to the convenience of living here,” she said. Still, “as someone who’s here with a family, any growth should be cognizant of the residents that were already here.”

deborah.secular@columbiaspectator.com  |  @DeborahSecular

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