The Q just got off the phone with Rong Ge, the landlord referenced in the previous post. We spoke for nearly an hour, and it was a very informative and sometimes frothy conversation. I must admit to being very torn about all the things I've heard on both sides of the issues that are bubbling up through the cracked pavement on Lincoln Road. For her part, Rong is whip-smart and not about to concede any ground regarding the "vision" that she has for the strip. She's aware of the insults that have been hurled at her, and she's none too happy about it. She feels she's been cast as a villain, when in fact she feels she found a diamond in the rough and has been trying to bring the neighborhood some much needed amenities. "I just want a place to get a decent coffee, get a decent meal, and go get drunk if I want to," she half-joked. This post is intended as an opportunity to hear from the woman whom many have maligned, but few have actually heard her side of things. The Q is not interested in picking sides, just hearing all of them. I called Enduro and look forward to printing their thoughts in a future post.
Regardless of one's leanings, it's hard to fault a property owner for wanting what she wants. In some ways, we're talking about the total opposite of "absentee landlord-ism." She's very much involved in the development of her property, and more to the point, the development of the neighborhood into a more genteel place for the coffee-bistro-organic-provisions set that has become more and more conspicuous in the 'hood of late. But more to the point, the story began because Rong herself wanted a place where she and her husband could buy a decent cup of coffee in the neighborhood. Really.
Rong Ge grew up in China. Her dad's a well-known and well-off doctor, and she started her adult life as a well-educated fine artist. Moving to NYC in the '80s, she tried to make a go as an artist, but various realities conspired to send her professional life towards real estate. After moving to a nice block in PLG in the late '90s, she found herself enamored of the beautiful but underutilized building at the corner of Lincoln and Flatbush, and she was able to convince its then-owner to sell it to her. She got a good deal, and she remains grateful to that prior owner, and through the early '00s leased a space back to him for next to nothing, so he could continue his beauty-supply store. But her headstrong vision for the block was never far from her mind, and when Gaby-and-family of K-Dog came calling, she was super happy to welcome them, providing what Ge calls generous terms towards their much-heralded opening.
But from the beginning, the relationship was strained. Rong feels, wrongly or rightly, that she was never treated with respect. Is it because she's Asian and female? She's had her suspicions. She told the Q to put on an Asian mask for a day and see how the world treats you. Sadly my Asian mask is still at the cleaners - Korean cleaners, mind you - but her point is well taken. In particular, it appears that Ge and Gaby's mom never hit it off. Even a year after K-Dog opened, Rong stopped going to K-Dog entirely, feeling dissed every time she walked in. Ironically, Rong's husband (who is apparently a big morning cup-a-joe kinda guy) stopped going too, but, more prosaically, because he was so annoyed by the frustratingly long and slow lines. In the end, there was little that Gaby could do to extract the terms she wanted from Ge, and vice-versa, and as you now deduce, Ge was not feeling particularly warm and fuzzy towards the process. Throw in some personal stuff and general exhaustion, and it's safe to say that the 'Dog was more than ready to throw it in. Was it just about money, as some have said? From Ge's perspective, it was not, and she's the one telling the story in this post. And it wasn't the only time that she said "money is not the issue" during our conversation. Take that as you will.
The landlord also wants to set the record straight on the spaces up for lease: Blue Roost is safe, and has Ge's full support. Papa & Sons, whose lease is up, is out unless a Hail Mary scores a last minute game-winner (seems Papa's been nailed a time or two by the cops for running an illegal "numbers" a/k/a lottery operation, and Ge wants no part of that). While Enduro and it's sister Lincoln Park Tavern are not yet at the end of their lease, they're also clearly not at the end of their leash yet either, because Ge is not happy with
a) the dispiriting Department of Health citations - (just type in Cafe Enduro for the details to draw your own conclusion)
b) the seeming lack of concern or love shown to the businesses on the part of the owners
c) the constant badmouthing she receives from the neighborhood, which she suspects comes from the contempt with which she held by owners, workers and patrons
d) the fact that she cut them major slack on their rent after the economic downturn started, and she feels this fact is both unappreciated and unacknowledged
So, yes, Rong Ge is not particularly happy about the state of affairs in her kingdom, but she seems genuinely in love with her building and with the idea of changing the neighborhood for the better. Her broker was speaking with the owners of Union Market (you know that little can-do upscale grocer that had the gumption to open up just down from the Park Slope Food Coop, selling much of the same inventory at a 50% premium, albeit without lines or work requirements?) but apparently they don't think Papa's is big enough. (your speculation inserted here.)
Bottom line is this. While the Massey Knakal listing seems relatively clear and straightforward, it ain't over til the Phat Albert sings. This humble blogger walked away from today's conversation with our neighbor Rong Ge even less sure of whom or what to believe than ever before. Do I really care? Kinda, I guess. I wish I could get more riled up about it all, like I've seen others of my neighbors get. But in the long run, I don't know whether it's all that worth taking sides. I don't drink at Lincoln Park Tavern. I don't particularly care for the food at Enduro. I think Francisco at Papa & Sons seems like a nice guy and I'd like him to be able to make a living, but I don't have any skin in the game, nor do I patronize him regularly. I'm quite glad that Blue Roost took K-Dog's place, because it seems to mean an awful lot to an awful lot of people that we have a sit-down cafe coffee 'n' things joint. But in the end, I suppose, as that manager from the movie formerly known as Purple Rain said...bidness is bidness...and sometimes bidness is downright messy.
But I will tell you this...Rong does not strike me as a liar, or crazy, or even particularly greedy (all accusations that have been leveled at her.) She is, however, very sure of herself, very sure of her vision, very (overly?) personally invested in the businesses in her building, quite a bit quirky, and most definitely a force to be reckoned with. To which I say what I always say...THANK GOD I'M A COUNTRY BOY! Or rather, good luck to all involved.
The Q at Parkside
News and Nonsense from the Brooklyn neighborhood of Lefferts and environs, or more specifically a neighborhood once known as Melrose Park. Sometimes called Lefferts Gardens. Or Prospect-Lefferts Gardens. Or PLG. Or North Flatbush. Or Caledonia (west of Ocean). Or West Pigtown. Across From Park Slope. Under Crown Heights. Near Drummer's Grove. The Side of the Park With the McDonalds. Jackie Robinson Town. Home of Lefferts Manor. West Wingate. Near Kings County Hospital. Or if you're coming from the airport in taxi, maybe just Flatbush is best.