French food invades Spanish Harlem

By Jovana Rizzo | February 18, 2009 04:43PM

Two French eateries have opened recently on Lexington Avenue in East
Harlem, both owned by Europeans who live in the neighborhood.

Yo in Yo Out opened last week at 1569 Lexington Avenue, between 100th
and 101st streets, with crepes, salads and sandwiches on the menu. Head
chef and owner Yoanne Magris, originally from France, signed a 10-year
lease for the space.

A few blocks north, the SpaHa Café quietly opened in late December at
1872 Lexington Avenue, at 116th Street, and owner Tika Fotoglidi is
planning the café’s grand opening for next month. Fotoglidi, who was
born in Greece, signed a five-year lease for the space, and sells
French pastries, breads from Balthazar and sandwiches.

Magris has lived in East Harlem for 10 years, and when a friend told her the ground-floor space of his building was for rent, she jumped at the opportunity to open her own restaurant.

And Fotoglidi came to East Harlem three years ago from Murray Hill when she bought a brownstone on 116th Street as an investment. She renovated the entire building, and rented it out, keeping the first floor unit for her own home. Fotoglidi said she opened her café a few avenues away because there a was a dearth of upscale bakeries uptown. For both owners, it is the first time they are opening their own eateries.

Benjamin Fox, president of Winick Realty Group, who was not involved in the lease transactions, said the asking rents for these spaces were probably around $75 per square foot, a number that would triple if either restaurant opened on Lexington Avenue just 15 to 20 blocks south.

A few other restaurants and bars have recently opened in the East Harlem area, including the coffee and sandwich shop East Harlem Café, a bar called SpaHa Lounge and Moustache Pitza, a Middle Eastern restaurant.

Faith Hope Consolo, chairman of the retail leasing and sales division at Prudential Douglas Elliman, said retailers are very interested in setting up shop in East Harlem right now because the area has affordable retail rents and a lot of local shoppers. She estimated that the average retail rent in East Harlem is $50 per square foot.

“Harlem is happening and it’s happening now,” Consolo said, adding that she is working on a number of deals with restaurateurs and apparel groups interested in opening up in the neighborhood. “What we’re seeing here is finally the arrival of some great shopping opportunities that haven’t existed in Harlem, and it’s aggressively speeding up because Harlem is affordable.”

Both European restaurant owners may be neighborhood residents, but are their French restaurants fitting in in Spanish Harlem? It remains to be seen, but Magris is hopeful.

“After one week I had a crush on this neighborhood,” Magris said. “There’s something about it that is very real.”

Fotoglidi, who is planning to open a farmer’s market in the SpaHa Café, said she has a huge European customer base in the neighborhood, and residential brokers in the area said in the past few months, they have seen a new interest from European families looking to buy brownstones in East Harlem. French-born Magris said she actually ended up moving to East Harlem because she was in love with someone who lived in the neighborhood.