Why This Brooklyn Restaurant Couldn’t Translate Hit Reviews Into Sustained Success

Dover closed abruptly because it “didn’t have the luxury to operate for a couple more weeks and lose more money.” Photo: Sarah Silberg/New York Magazine

In late 2013, following the success of 28-seat Battersby, chefs Joseph Ogrodnek and Walker Stern’s opened Dover — a Carroll Gardens restaurant double the size and more refined, with an (optional) $95, seven-course, French-leaning tasting menu. Critics quickly praised it: In his two-star Times review, Pete Wells wrote, “If the rigorously tweezered austerity that is in vogue in the city’s kitchens has begun to seem as comforting as an icicle, Dover’s cooking will strike you as a sweet relief”; New York’s own Adam Platt noted, “This kind of rigorous, classically minded cuisine rarely turns up in new restaurants across the river anymore.” Now, after just over three years in business, Ogrodnek and Stern have closed Dover for good.

“We’re sad about it,” Ogrodnek says. “The business and the neighborhood slowed down, and we stopped making money. It wasn’t really enough business or income to support our style of service and overhead. During the first two years, we were doing awesome, and then this past summer, we noticed that people seemed to go away on longer vacations. Right around Thanksgiving, it normally picks back up, and it never really did.”

Like with Annisa, what hurt Dover is that even its à la carte menu was too pricey to make it a casual, neighborhood spot — but it wasn’t quite a special-occasion restaurant, either. (In his review, Alan Richman explored the gaps between the three-star food, the two-star service, and the one-star room.) Ogrodnek says he never thought of Dover as a fine-dining restaurant, despite the fact that a $35 caviar pie became the signature dish: “Dover and Battersby have similar menus and price points,” he says. “Dover might have given off the appearance of fine dining just because there was more space, but we’ve maintained the same check averages at both.”

While Ogrodnek assures that Battersby is doing “pretty well,” he’s not sure how long it’ll continue to be profitable. “There are a lot of restaurants that closed on Smith Street and Court Street this year, and I expect a lot more to close, especially with the new payroll expenses — the new minimum-wage law is a big thing, and rents are always on the increase,” he says. “The neighborhood is seeing a big increase in rent prices, and commercial real estate is suffering while residential real estate is thriving. A lot of places are closing down.”

What’s curious is that while there’s been an influx of disposable income in Carroll Gardens — more people who can afford $65 chicken for two —Ogrodnek says that doesn’t give rise to regular customers. “People that live in the neighborhood now are completely different than when we first opened Battersby,” he says. “If you own one of those brownstones now, you’re a millionaire. But it seems like the more money that comes into the neighborhood, the less it’s spent here. It’s a different scene. The takeout business in the neighborhood is booming. I’m not saying it’s for better or for worse. We just have to adapt if we want to be in this neighborhood.”

Why Dover Couldn’t Turn Hit Reviews Into Sustained Success