The following is a guest post by Max Falkowitz
For 23 years, Rahita Raval has baked croissants and carrot cake in a 470 square foot storefront in Forest Hills, Queens. Now, as thanks for those pastries and two decades as a respectful tenant, her landlord has handed her an eviction notice. Bonelle Pastry Shop, today a fixture of the neighborhood, must clear out by the end of the year.
photo: Ed B Flowers, flickr
Raval isn’t facing eviction to make way for a new store that wants her space. Her landlord, the Brooklyn-based Babad Management Company, just signed a lease with Dunkin’ Donuts for a space down the street. Babad argues Bonelle would make undue competition for Dunkin’ and thus must vacate the premises. With only a verbal rental agreement, not a formal lease (it was foisted on her after her first 10 years as a leased tenant), she has few options.
The Daily News and Gothamist have been on the case, and over 850 people have signed a petition urging Babad to reconsider. Most recently, the Dunkin’ Donuts franchisee Scott Campbell has pledged his support for Bonelle, in an effort to highlight where the eviction pressure seems to be coming from: a massive real estate company that hardly has a sterling reputation. Babad’s company, meanwhile, has been unresponsive to journalists’ calls, and has not replied to Raval’s (or her lawyer’s) request for a meeting.
It’s unclear just what the original terms of discussion were between Babad and Dunkin’ Donuts. It’s uncertain if all this protest will have any effect, or, if it does, if Campbell won’t change his tune about Bonelle staying put.
But here’s what I can tell you about Bonelle and its place in Forest Hills.
Jeremiah spends his days chronicling the painful ways New York is losing its vital organs. Forest Hills has stood as a resilient counterexample to this necrosis, a neighborhood populated by decades-old businesses and the customers to keep them thriving. Take Eddie’s Sweet Shop, the marble-countered ice cream parlor with nearly 100 years of history behind it. Or the 80-year-old German chocolate shop Aigner’s, which makes its honeycomb candy just like always. Or Bonelle’s neighbor, Nick’s Pizza, which for 21 years has been slinging some of the borough’s finest pies.
I could tell you about the bagel shops that have stood the test of time. And Wafa’s, which years ago graduated from a lunch counter to a full restaurant, where chef Wafa Chami’s Lebanese cooking has a dedicated clientele.
And then there’s Bonelle, which loads its moist carrot cake with nuts and fat slabs of not-too-sweet cream cheese icing. You can buy oversized jammy hamentaschen there, and flaky rugelach, and sweet, dense petit fours. Raval doesn’t have a hot take on a cronut or much reason to change her menu at all. She’s a bakery owner succeeding where more and more New York small businesses are failing. And she has the fans to keep it that way.
photo: Daily News
Forest Hills has the advantage of housing some of Queens’s wealthiest residents. And those residents gladly shop at the many chains on Austin Street and Queens Boulevard. But they support their local spots with gusto and show no sign of stopping. Babad’s eviction notice isn’t an omen of gentrification; Forest Hills is already comfortably gentrified. Rather, it’s an awkward, unwelcome, and ungainly attempt at a powerplay fueled by the basest form of greed.
Raval is now fighting her eviction, seeking out a new space, and handling the rush of holiday orders all at once. She has no problem with a Dunkin’ Donuts opening nearby; she just wants to keep baking. “I would love for the landlord to come to the table. I’d love to have a five-year lease and to show him that the neighborhood supports us. He’s allowed me to be here for 23 years. All I would like is a few years more.”
Supporters can sign the petition at her bakery. You can also contact Forest Hills councilwoman Karen Koslowitz, borough president Melinda Katz, or call Babad Management Company at 718-633-7586 and urge them to respond to Bonelle’s request for a meeting.
Max Falkowitz is the national editor editor at Serious Eats, a James Beard award-winning food and drink website, where he covers dining in New York across the five boroughs.