Monday, July 17, 2017

One last visit to Cup & Saucer in New York City's Lower East Side

CUP & SAUCER on Canal Street at Eldridge Street on the Lower East Side closed after over 75 years in business earlier today after a steep rent increase. This unpretentious spot was founded as a Jewish luncheonette complete with a lunch counter and stools as well as a small seating area.

Cup & Saucer has been co-owned by John Vasilopoulos and Nick Castanos since 1988. We spoke with John... "We took over this luncheonette from the second owner in 1988, but we haven’t really changed a thing about it. We have the same interior and the same original signage from the Coca-Cola Company. As long as the bolts holding our sign in place hang on, we plan to keep it. Cup & Saucer was founded in 1940 when this area was the center of the Jewish-owned jewelry trade. Now most of the Jewish jewelry places have closed and moved to the midtown Diamond District and Chinese-owned stores have moved into the neighborhood. So we lost most of our old-time customer base and corporate accounts."

Above is co-owner John Vasilopoulos behind the counter. The narrow space has stool seating on the counter side and window seating on the other with views of the always busy seat corner. This photo was taken during a quiet moment the day before school started. We returned a couple days later for breakfast and the place was packed with a line out the door. 

Inlaid on the terrazzo floor is a gold cup and saucer. John continued... "Years back, we had our regular clientele who didn’t even have to place an order, we would just see them walk in and start cooking their food and pouring their coffee for them. Our menu, however, has stayed the same with eggs in the morning and hamburgers and simple sandwiches for lunch. We close by 6 pm so complicated dinner offerings are not an issue."

Above, John behind the front counter. Cup & Saucer keeps their prices very reasonable with breakfast specials served from 6:30 am to 11 am starting at $5.00 for two eggs any style, potatoes & toast with coffee, tea or juice! 
"We try to keep our prices reasonable but it has been difficult because the price of raw materials just keeps on going up and up. Both my partner and I ran a food business uptown before we lost our lease and took this over so we know what it takes to survive."

Above is the storefront's 1940s over-hanging privilege sign. John told us in 2015 that the building they are located in was just sold to new owners and he expects the rent to double. ."..we don’t own the building and our lease is expiring in a couple of years so unfortunately our future is uncertain." The New York Times confirmed in a story published today that the landlord increased the rent from $8,200 a month to $15,800 a month and that negotiations to come to better terms failed, forcing them to close. 

This news hit us particularly hard as we not only photographed and interviewed the owners for our book, Store Front II-A History Preserved, but have been actively trying to help raise awareness of the plight of local mom-and-pop shops through free workshops we held at the Neighborhood Preservation Center in April, May and June. The participants of the workshops photographed and highlighted Cup & Saucer and it will be one of the local businesses chosen to be exhibited from August 14th- September 18th at the exhibition we are curating at the Theater for The New City Gallery. Please join us at the opening celebration on Monday, August 14th from 6-9 pm at the Theater for The New City Gallery. 155 First Avenue near 10th Street in the East Village. Free wine and light bites will be served! 

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