Polish restaurants pushed out of East Village

Rising Manhattan rent has forced a popular Polish restaurant in East Village to close its doors.

Owners of Polonia at 110 1st Avenue, opened for the last time on Tuesday, December 27th to say farewell to regular customers.

Renata and Józef Jurczyk told the New York Times they decided to shut their business when the building’s owner, Ludmila a Lozowy, raised the rent.

Starting February 1st, 2012 rent would jump from $3,500 to $12,000.

Although, the landlord later agreed to go down to $10,500, it was still more than the Jurczyks could afford, but not too much for owners of an Italian restaurant, which will take Polonia’s place.

Polonia did not generate much profit, since the owners did not have a license to sell strong liquor, and served only beer and wine.

Besides, it was an affordable eatery that catered to a less affluent clientele.

At first, most of the customers were Polish; more recently, Americans became regulars.

Before closing, the owners tried to cut costs creatively.

Ms. Jurczyk would roll up her sleeves and help out in the kitchen, serve customers, and clean up.

But with the threat of tripling rent, they saw no chance to succeed.

Ms. Jurczyk said she had no plans to stay in the food business and was looking forward to a rest after 18 years without vacation.

Her 23 year old son Paul, on the other hand, plans to launch an internet store – NYC Pierogi Factory – selling Polish food, including 20 kinds of pierogi.

Polonia has joined a growing list of shuttered Polish restaurants in the East Village – a popular and increasingly more expensive neighborhood.

Rising rents also struck down Jolanta, Papa Bear, Teresa and Christine.

The close knit circle of Polish restaurateurs feel each other’s pain.

“It makes you sad to hear that a Polish business closes shop,” says Zenon Krawczyk, owner of Neptune restaurant at 194 1st Avenue.

“We have known one another for many years, we work in the same sector, we all treat one another like our own people,” he added.

Mr. Krawczyk has owned and operated Neptune for 11 years, Before that he owned the Bałtyk restaurant at 31st Street.

He said having a successful food business these days is not easy.

In order to make sure all goes well, he is at work all the time and does not shy away from working in the kitchen, helping out his small staff of six.

The restaurant offers a typical Polish menu: pierogi, stuffed cabbage, potato pancakes, but also serves American specialties like hamburgers and sandwiches.

“We get fewer and fewer Poles, and more Americans,” Mr. Krawczyk says. “They like the Polish cuisine, e.g. pierogi or the duck which is our weekend specialty,” he adds.

Homemade Polish food also brings Americans to the G.I. Delicatessen at 109 1st Ave., operated by Grazyna Iwuc.

“We used to have a lot more Polish customers, now the majority of the clientele are Americans,” Iwuc said.

“They come because they like the food I prepare – pierogi, salads, croquettes, tripe, etc.”

The Polish deli is located at 1st Avenue, across the street from Polonia.

“I am lucky to have a good landlord and don’t have to worry about a rent hike yet,” Iwuc said.

She said the economic downturn has also taken a toll on her business.

“Our sales are down by 20-30 percent. People just don’t have money. They pay for food with credit cards. But I am not thinking about moving out of Manhattan to Greenpoint. It is not cheap there either,” she concluded.

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