By Gustavo Solis
EAST HARLEM — It's not easy to promote fine dining in a neighborhood better known for synthetic marijuana abuse, but small businesses on the east side of 125th Street are trying to change that with their first ever Uptown Restaurant Week.
“It’s a tough task ahead of us, but I always say we can build a mountain with one rock at a time,” said Gregory Barrett of the Uptown Wine Pantry.
The $8 food and drink specials may help.
Uptown Restaurant Week coincides with New York Restaurant Week. Beside the dates, there are few similarities.
While business districts traditionally use the concept to promote their local eateries, the goal of Uptown Restaurant Week is to encourage people to spend more time in a place not known for its food options, said Carey King who helped organize the event for the New Harlem East Merchants Association.
We just wanted to show everybody that there is good stuff if you cross the threshold and walk into these businesses,” she said.
NHEMA was originally formed to clean up the sidewalks outside of storefronts to make them more welcoming to customers. They’ve also worked on making the area more vibrant with an outdoor plaza under the Metro North tracks, King said.
Restaurant week is one of their first initiatives to promote local businesses in a more direct way, she added.
For those businesses involved it’s not just about getting more customers, it’s about proving that businesses can thrive in this part of town and hopefully attract other entrepreneurs to the vacant storefronts.
“It’s desolate on the east side,” said Sharon Gonzalez, owner of Lady Lexis Sweets. “If you don’t support your local small businesses you help drive them out and then you have more desolate areas.”
Specials include chicken curry, rice and lemonade from Sisters Caribbean, shrimp and sides from Taste of Seafood, and grilled salmon teriyaki with a house salad from Wild Olive Market all for $8.