The owner of the Pink Tea Cup, Lisa Ford, has now told us more about why she’s closing on January 3. First things first, don’t count on a new location. Ford says she’s leaving New York to figure things out, but “the Raye family and the Pink Tea Cup are pretty much done at this point.” (Floridian Mary Raye opened the restaurant in 1954 and passed it on to her husband, who handed it down to his niece, Lisa’s mother.) Ford, who has worked at the restaurant since she graduated from college and her mother installed her there as a cashier in 1989, says she was sunk by a combination of the downturn in the economy (business hadn’t been the same after 9/11 but it grew worse even before the Lehman crash) and rising costs. “The city is a really rough place to run a small business, what with [rises in] taxes, utilities … ” says Ford. “If you pass that on to your customers at the rate they pass it on to us, you can’t stay in existence.”
Ford was hit particularly hard by property-tax bills of around $16,000, a steep rent increase two years ago, and the city’s recent request that she upgrade her exhaust system, not to mention rising food costs. “They send you a letter saying you have 30 days to do this, 30 days to do that … It all starts coming at you. You’re eating at your chunk of change and next thing you know it’s like, ‘Wow.’” Ford adjusted by charging more and cutting hours (she says that a year ago, she upped the price of dishes by about $1), but traffic was still down. “The whole idea of soul food is a lot of food for a little money so you don’t want to charge all these crazy amounts (like, $20 per dish) but that’s what you need to do.” Especially, she says, since she didn’t have a liquor license (when her uncle ran the business, he felt serving liquor would distract customers from the quality of the food; Ford’s mother looked into getting a license at one point but found insurance costs prohibitive).
“I’m disappointed,” says Ford. “I’m the third generation. I feel a little bad that it happened on my watch.”