Famed-But-Folded FiDi Eatery Plans Reopening in Historic Space It Has Occupied for 186 Years
A Downtown culinary landmark, shuttered for several years, is preparing for its second act. Delmonico’s, which opened in 1827 and moved to its current location—at the corner of Beaver and South William Streets—a decade later, was one of a legion of Lower Manhattan restaurants that became casualties of the Covid pandemic. Unlike many of its peers however, most of which eventually reopened, Delmonico’s was also beset by damage from 2021’s Hurricane Ida, and further beleaguered by a years-long dispute with its landlord, hinging on some $400,000 in back rent. In story first reported earlier this week by The New York Times and the Commercial Observer, the restaurant’s operators are laying the groundwork to reopen later this year.
The famed restaurant, which is believed to have invented dishes such as Eggs Benedict, Baked Alaska, Manhattan clam chowder, Lobster Newberg, Chicken à la King, and the wedge salad, closed in March, 2020, as the pandemic swept through New York. At the time, this measure was intended to be temporary. In August, 2020, however, the owners filed a notice with the State’s Department of Labor that the 100-plus staff members who had been furloughed for the pandemic were being permanently laid off, indicating that the restaurant had no plans to reopen.
Several months later, the four partners who jointly owned Delmonico’s broke into a pair of factions and sued each other. That litigation drew to a close in March, 2021, and left two of the original four shareholders, brothers Ferdo and Omer Grgurev, in control of the restaurant. The brothers prepared to reopen Delmonico’s, but the landmarked building suffered significant water damage from Hurricane Ida several months later. This caused the Grgurevs to stop paying rent, based on the allegation that the landlord, Time Equities, had an obligation to make repairs to the premises.
The landlord filed eviction papers in January, 2022, demanding the return of the space within 14 days, but the New York State Supreme Court issued a restraining order in April, preventing eviction while Time Equities and Delmonico’s owners continued to negotiate. Those discussions were rendered moot at the end of last month, when the underlying lease for the space expired. At that point, Dennis Turcinovic and Joseph Licul signed a new lease with Time Equities for the premises, and announced that they planned to relaunch Delmonico’s. They are aiming for an autumn opening.
Meanwhile, background intrigue continues, with assertions of plotting and subterfuge. An unsigned statement at delmonicos.com reads, “We regret to inform our customers and loyal followers that the recent reports that we will re-open at 56 beaver street is [sic] false. It has come to our attention that former associates have been misrepresenting themselves to the media as owners of Delmonico’s. This is untrue, and legal action has been commenced against these individuals. As the sole owners of the trademark and this iconic brand, we are disappointed that anyone would attempt to steal our name, but more so that our customers have been given false expectations about re-opening. We are actively working on our New York City re-opening plans and will share those with you as soon as we are able.”
All of these machinations are considerably removed from a legendary past. When Delmonico’s moved to its current location in 1837, two years after the Great Fire that consumed 17 square blocks of Lower Manhattan, the brothers who founded the restaurant boasted that the stone columns in front of 56 Beaver Street had been imported from the ruins of Pompeii. (This appears to have been a bit of promotional bunk.)
In the years that followed, their dining room would pioneer fine dining in America. As Caleb Carr wrote in “The Alienist,” “it is often difficult, I find, for people today to grasp the notion that one family, working through several restaurants, could change the eating habits of an entire country. But the craving for first rate dining became a kind of national fever in the later decades of the century—and Delmonico’s was responsible.”