Harlem bakery transforms into restaurant

By Matthew Strozier | March 19, 2010 04:51PM

Harlem should brace itself for another change: Settepani Cafe & Bakery is being transformed into a restaurant and lounge with southern Italian cuisine.

Space was cleared in the 1,500-square-foot cafe at 196 Lenox Avenue and 120th Street by removing the gelato, cookie and cake displays (baked goods can still be ordered from the Williamsburg location at 602 Lorimer Street). There will be bar lounge dining up front, with a standard restaurant in the back. Total seating, including bar seats, will jump to 65 from 34.

The official unveiling for Ristorante Settepani is March 30, but there’s a “sneak preview” tonight from 7:30 to 10 p.m. Leah Abraham, who owns Settepani with her husband Nino Settepani, said she’s prepared for some shock given the bond customers have with the cafe.

“What people loved about us is more than the food. It is that people walked in and were welcome,” Abraham said.

She said they envisioned a high-caliber Italian restaurant all along, but it’s only possible now that a critical mass of dining and entertainment has emerged in Harlem. The cafe opened in 2000, and Abraham said it became the “best branding we ever did.” The blog Harlem + Bespoke recently called Settepani the “game-changing
Morris Park Historic District cafe.”

Indeed, the Wall Street Journal wrote this month that Settepani closing for renovations had “grim results” for the neighborhood. “Without Settepani’s latte-drinking customers, reading newspapers and chatting on the wide sidewalk in good weather, the block, which has some boarded-up buildings, has a forlorn, slightly menacing look.” Neighbors agree, Abraham said, and told her a recent mugging nearby wouldn’t have happened “had you been there.”