Community Boards

Zenkichi Denied CB Approval Because of ‘Asian Explosion’?

Photo: Gavin Thomas

We were surprised to hear from a tipster that Zenkichi faced opposition at a meeting of Community Board 2’s licensing committee last week when it tried to win approval for its new project at 150 Bowery and Broome. After all, the Williamsburg izakaya is a pretty much invisible date spot for intrepid eaters — it doesn’t even have a front door! Still, our tipster tells us that one woman worried it would be yet another turn-and-burn family-style restaurant that would contribute to the “Asian explosion” in the neighborhood. A call to Zenkichi owner Shaul Margulies confirms the story.

Margulies says that not a single member of the general public spoke against his application (which is why the three or four neighbors who showed up to support him didn’t bother speaking in his favor), but a Community Board 2 member (who was not part of the licensing committee) did indeed speak of an “Asian explosion.” “My wife was deeply offended,” said Margulies. “I guess it’s the same as having a Jewish explosion in Williamsburg and a black explosion in Harlem.” Margulies tried to change his opponent’s mind, but he says, “No matter how much we tried to explain that we’re a romantic restaurant that has things nice and tight and polite, it didn’t get through. It was completely shocking.”

Margulies says he and his wife will return to the board next month to propose the same restaurant (another branch of Zenkichi, with similar menu and layout), minus the basement space.

Here, for good measure, is our tipster’s account of the meeting.

I’ve noticed a lot of community board coverage on the blogs recently but I didn’t see anything about Zenkichi going in front of CB2 last week. Probably because they went on so late.

Well, I have to say I was pretty surprised at the meeting, my first. The room was hot, the seats broken and there were no microphones. It’s almost like they don’t want people to come. Then there was a long line of places that had to go before the board. I almost didn’t last until Zenkichi myself but, hey, what the hell, I was already there, have been to Zenkichi in Williamsburg, so I figured I’d stay.

The plan to open a new location of Zenkichi seems pretty cool, a bigger restaurant on two levels, a lounge in the basement. Sounded good to me but the board acted like they were trying to open a club. I guess don’t use the word “lounge” in front of CBs? But what happened next was a real shocker. One woman in the audience said that in the downtown area there was an “Asian explosion” of family-style restaurants that get people in and out in an hour and that this restaurant would disgorge hundreds of drunks on the streets late at night. Mind you, one of the owners is Japanese. It’s just so stupid and offensive, I mean, an “Asian explosion” in Chinatown? This is Bowery and Broome we’re talking about! And drunks pouring out of Zenkichi? The poor owners tried to explain that they are a romantic restaurant, which she said was impossible, that 100 seat restaurants aren’t romantic. Do these CB people even know who comes in front of them? Somehow Crash Mansion came up and they started questioning the owners’ business acumen, how they are going to make money, and saying if they don’t make it, they will transfer the license to a club.

Is this how these meetings always go? I didn’t feel comfortable speaking but I really should have. I don’t know if anyone has seen that corner. I walk past it often and it’s been blighted for years– a restaurant there would be great. Unfortunately based on this meeting, I don’t know if they’re getting the license but I hope so. Regardless of that, this system seems to be completely broken. I’m completely aghast.

And Zenkichi isn’t the only downtowner facing heat. Yesterday Eater brought news from Monday night’s Community Board 3 meeting: Sara Jenkins of Porchetta was endorsed for wine and beer at a new 74-seat Italian restaurant at 21–23 East Seventh Street, while the owners of Lit (apparently looking to transfer their liquor license to a “new venture” in the same space) were assailed by attendees who called them bad neighbors. They’ll get their ducks in a row and try again in a month.

Zenkichi Denied CB Approval Because of ‘Asian Explosion’?