Green and yellow banners and balloons festooned the doorway of B&H Dairy on Wednesday night as it celebrated 80 years in the East Village. And the swarm of customers flooding the narrow hallway of the restaurant showed that the place had more than withstood the passage of time. While the Jewish patrons who frequented the diner in its early days may no longer be as strong of a presence in the East Village, this small diner with a medley of vegetarian/kosher/Eastern European fare and fewer than 30 seats (most of them classic lunch counter stools) has continued to soldier on throughout the decades, surviving economic downturns, a gas explosion and ongoing gentrification.
The corner of St. Marks and Second Avenue was once again abuzz this afternoon, as a Small Biz Crawl brought much needed cash and customers to businesses adjacent the March 26 gas explosion.
Business owners affected by the Second Avenue gas explosion met Thursday morning, some of them for the first time, at Cafe Mocha, across the street from where three buildings collapsed two weeks ago today. There was talk of struggles with insurance companies, frustration over not being able to reopen, and despair over lost businesses, but many said they feel lucky things didn’t turn out worse.
This morning, outside of a shuttered B&H Dairy, owner Fawzy Abdelwahad stood waiting for Con Ed inspectors who were due to check his gas line. Since an explosion leveled three buildings a few doors down from him last week, he’s been working with various city agencies and his insurance company to reopen his 73-year-old diner and keep his business from going under.
Abdelwahad, who has owned B&H for 13 years, said that with taxes, rent, insurance, labor, food, and supplies, his expenses run between $30,000 to $40,000 a month. He has no savings and no personal assets to leverage in order to support the business. “If it’s going to be like this for a while,” he said, waving at the darkened diner, “we could be out of business like, 1-2-3.” He estimated that it would not be able to survive more than a three-week closure. “I love it, of course,” he said of the greasy spoon. “It’s like my son, one of my children, my family.”