Last month, One More Folded Sunset alerted us to the imminent closures of a group of old-school businesses at Park Place and Flatbush in Prospect Heights, Brooklyn. The landlord has sent letters of eviction, giving them weeks to vacate.
The Dominican restaurant El Gran Castillo de Jagua has been on the corner for nearly four decades, according to a Daily News piece on the closures. “We’ve lost our business,” 63-year-old Sergio Olivio told the paper, while holding back tears.
As of today, the restaurant is still there, but not for long. I went into El Gran Castillo de Jagua for lunch recently. It was some of the best food I have ever tasted. Chicken, plantains, avocados, rice and beans, washed down with Morir Sonando--"to die dreaming." All made perfectly, tasting fresh and clean.
El Gran Castillo de Jagua has a large dining room in the back, as well as a small lunch counter with swivel stools. People come and go, sit on the stools, wait for their take-out meals. The atmosphere is warm and friendly.
Coconut cakes sit on pedestals looking like ghosts from the past.
Next door, the Benoit barbershop has been there for over 40 years. I peeked in. I was not in need of a haircut, but wished I was. The barber dozed in a chair, his feet up. Music played from a radio. The smell coming out was that wonderful barber-shop smell--Clubman talc, osage aftershave, the works.
“I feel helpless,” Sylvain Benoit, the 62-year-old owner of barber shop, told the Daily News. “It just seems like there is nothing we can do about it. Only people who have the money make the law. There is just nobody to talk to for help. You work your whole life in one place, and then one day the landlord comes and just kicks you out on to the sidewalk.”
This can happen easily in New York because there is no rent control for businesses, and no laws in place that would regulate how a landlord can negotiate rent increases and lease extensions.
Also to be evicted is Benoit's neighbor Little Miss Muffin 'N' Her Stuffin', a Trinidadian patty and muffin shop that One More Folded Sunset says has been serving some of the best patties in the city for 20 years. Miss Muffin has luckily found a new location, though in a less desirable spot.
Folded Sunset writes, "the whole deal here stinks--another story of small, family businesses pushed aside, replaced by the unremarkable, the unaffordable, the unspeakable. The true wealth of the city counts for nothing."