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Magic Gyro

Magic Gyro to Reopen in Stillwell Terminal. Photo © Tricia Vita via flickr

A trio of big name businesses originally hoping to open in Coney Island by Mermaid Parade Day, which marks the start of summer, have now set their sights on July and in one case August. Wahlburgers, IHOP, and Boston Beer Corp’s Coney Island Brewery have held job screenings but remain under construction.

Amid the influx of new businesses, there is one that is returning to its Stillwell Terminal store more than 2-1/2 years after being devastated by Hurricane Sandy! Coney Island Gourmet, a Mom & Pop owned by Turkish Americans, is being renovated and expected to reopen as Magic Gyro in July. When ATZ reviewed the store in August 2012, it had a corner kitchen and a “Magic Gyro” sign on the Stillwell Avenue facade. In addition to chicken and veal sandwiches and entrees served with rice and salad, the menu offered falafel, hummus, babganoush, haydari (yogurt flavored with garlic, herbs and olive oil) and stuffed vine leaves, all very reasonably priced. The store will no longer feature a food shop and is being renovated as a restaurant.

Coney Island Brewery

Coney Island Brewery on Surf Ave in MCU Park Building

At 1904 Surf Avenue, the Coney Island Brewing Company, whose craft beers celebrate the iconography of Coney Island, hopes to officially open its doors in mid-July. The brewery is located in a retail space on the outside of MCU Park adjacent to Peggy O’Neill’s. “We’re excited about the opportunity,” Kathleen Barnes of the Coney Island Brewing Company told ATZ earlier this year. She said they’re planning to have a tasting room, retail space, a community center, and tours of the brewing process. Draft beers will be sold in growlers. Retail items include Coney beer-themed tap handles, coolers, beach towels, T-shirts and trucker hats. The line of Coney Island beers was relaunched in 2013 after being sold to Alchemy & Science, a division of Boston’s Samuel Adams.

Further east on Surf Avenue, across from Luna Park, the construction of IHOP in a 5,400-square-foot store has been delayed by the slow approval process for building department permits. “While waiting patiently the franchisee is going forward with his soft core work. He should be open late August,” says Joe Vitacco, who leased the space to the pancake franchise in February.

Wahburger's

Under Construction: Wahlburgers in Coney Island. June 13, 2015. Photo © Tricia Vita

Meanwhile, in Thor Equities “Retail Ride of A Lifetime” building on Stillwell, a quick peek inside Wahlburger’s Coney Island shows the 6,800 square foot Wahlburgers franchise to be far from finished. Asked when the celebrity restaurant would open a worker said, “Next month, by the Fourth of July.” The latest post on the eatery’s Facebook page says “The family is coming to town,” referring to actors Mark and Donnie Wahlberg and Chef Paul Wahlberg. The most recent photo is a snapshot of the view from their rooftop dining area. Can the A&E crew be far behind? Season 4 of Wahlburgers premieres on July 15.

UPDATE June 17, 2015:

The reality show comes to Coney! Wahlburgers Coney Island sent out an invite from the Wahlberg family to a private VIP Preview and Ribbon Cutting on June 23rd.

Wahlburgers

Related posts on ATZ…

May 28, 2015: Coney Island Openings & Closings: Power Surge, Arcade, Rainbow Shops, Vintage Shooting Gallery

May 14, 2015: Coney Island 2015: Red Doors Bar & Grill Opens on North Side of Surf Ave

April 27, 2015: Coney Island 2015: Update on Wahlburgers, Temporary Fair at Thor’s Vacant Lots

April 10, 2015: Coney Island 2015: Power Surge and Enterprise-Style Ride Set for Comeback

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Subway Cafe Coney Island

New Subway Cafe on Surf Avenue in Coney Island. Photo by Stan Fox AmusingtheZillion.com

The newest in a slew of chains and franchisees betting on the new, year-round Coney Island is having its grand opening on Wednesday morning. Here’s a first look inside the Subway Cafe, which has long been under construction but until today was hidden behind a steel gate. Located on Surf Avenue across the street from Luna Park, the Subway spin-off features a “Tuscany-style interior” with sofas and photos of old New York. The restaurant’s hours on opening day will be 7:00 am til 10:00 pm.

First introduced as a restaurant concept in 2008, the Subway Cafe is part sandwich shop, part coffee bar. Its decor and layout aim for a “coffeehouse ambiance” and is a little larger than an average Subway. The north side of Surf Avenue already has a Subway, located down the street in Stillwell Terminal, but it does not sell coffee. In addition to Subway sandwiches, the new cafe’s expanded menu includes baked goods, dessert items and coffee offerings.

Unlike Manhattan, where Mom & Pops are being pushed out to make way for chains or upscale businesses, the new chains and franchises in Coney are moving into former furniture stores or long vacant spaces. The furniture shops on the north side of Surf have long been in violation of the C-7 amusement zoning and are gradually being replaced by restaurants and bars. As ATZ noted in 2013, when we first posted the scoop on Subway Cafe, rides and amusement businesses aren’t about to make a comeback on the north side due to the skyrocketing rents since the Coney Island Rezoning of 2009.

Subway Cafe Coney Island

New Subway Cafe on Surf Avenue in Coney Island. Photo © Stan Fox via AmusingtheZillion.com

“I’m getting more inquiries than ever before,” said broker Joe Vitacco, who would like to bring a seafood and steak restaurant to the neighborhood. “It means that people are thinking about it. But I call half the people I talk to tourists.” Vitacco signed the lease in September 2013 with the restaurant chain for the 1,700 square foot cafe at 1019 Surf Avenue across the street from Luna Park.

Just how pricey is Coney Island’s north side of Surf? The building at 1019-1039 Surf was purchased for $3.1 million by 1019 Surf Ave Acquisition LLC in March 2013 for $3.1 million, according to Property Shark. Vitacco says the buyer was Russian multi-millionaire Yakov Yakubov.

During the hearings leading up to the Coney Island Rezoning of July 2009, a number of individuals and organizations including the Pratt Center for Community Development recommended adopting a formula business restriction policy within Coney East to prevent national retailers and fast food restaurants from locating there. Of course that didn’t happen because the zoning was written to attract these very businesses to Coney Island, as we noted in “Will Coney Island’s Surf Ave Become a Mecca for Franchises?” (December 19, 2012).

Subway Cafe Coney Island

New Subway Cafe on Surf Avenue in Coney Island. Photo © Stan Fox via AmusingtheZillion.com

Related posts on ATZ…

February 13, 2015: Coney Island 2015: IHOP Franchisee Signs Lease for 5,400-Square-Foot Surf Ave Store

January 29, 2015: Coney Island 2015: Subway Cafe, Sushi Lounge, IHOP, Checkers, Johnny Rockets

September 11, 2013: Subway Cafe to Replace Furniture Store on Coney Island’s Surf Ave

December 19, 2012: Will Coney Island’s Surf Ave Become a Mecca for Franchises?

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IhopAfter weeks of rumors and negotiations, it’s finally official: the lease for a 5,400 square foot IHOP at 1019 Surf Avenue in Coney Island was signed on Thursday, broker Joe Vitacco told ATZ. The franchisee who will be operating the restaurant is Bryan McKenzie, who owns an IHOP in New Jersey. Construction is expected to take about four months after the landlord completes the vanilla shell.

The one-story building at 1019 across the street from Luna Park is a longtime furniture store, which is not among the use groups permitted by the zoning. The space is being subdivided into six storefronts by the landlord and the stores are in the process of getting new street numbers. IHOP will combine the three stores on the far left and the soon-to-open Subway Cafe has the one on the right. Two remaining storefronts totalling 3,000 square feet are expected to be snapped up by another franchisee.

Why is Surf Avenue becoming a mecca for franchises? “The franchise is a preference of the landlords in Coney Island,” says Vitacco, who has leased space on Surf Avenue to Johnny Rockets, Subway Cafe and Rita’s Italian Ice, as well as to Brooklyn-based bakery Piece of Velvet for their third store. On Mermaid Avenue, he has leased to such Mom & Pops as a fish store and a Chinese bakery, as well as a Jamaican patty store franchisee.

Surf Avenue

1209 Surf Avenue in Coney Island. Store with shuttered gates is the future home of IHOP. January 25, 2015. Photo © Tricia Vita

“First of all, the franchisees are better funded. They are required to have half a million to two million in assets. They are trained and helped by the franchise company and have a high chance of success.” Many also own multiple businesses, which enables them to spread the risk. The Johnny Rockets franchisee owns several other franchise restaurants, Vitacco says.

Unlike Manhattan, where Mom and Pops are being forced out by landlords who triple the rent and then turn around and lease to chains or upscale businesses, many of the new franchises on Coney Island’s Surf Avenue are replacing illegal furniture stores which have existed for years in defiance of the zoning. Amid the influx of already opened national chains and franchises such as It’Sugar, Applebee’s, Rita’s Italian Ice, and Dunkin’ Donuts on Surf Avenue, there have also been a few new Mom & Pops like Lunatics Ice Cream and Luna Park Cafe, which have no connection to Luna Park.

The relatively large size of the stores is also a factor. The average price per square foot on the north side of Surf is $50.00 per square foot, Vitacco tells ATZ. On Mermaid Avenue it is $45 per square foot. “The difference in price from space to space depends upon the amount of landlord work. A space can be rented in ‘as is condition,’ as a Vanilla Box or as built to suit. The conditions will affect the rent.”

Asked why we aren’t seeing more a diversity of businesses instead of all restaurants and food? Is it too expensive? Vitacco says, “Because food pays the highest per square foot. Remember on Surf Avenue we are limited by the Coney Island C7 special zoning.”

Sky Rapids Ride

Sky Rapids Ride at 1223 Surf Avenue and Arcade at 1217 Surf Ave. Coney Island. January 1, 1979. Photo by Abe Feinstein via Coney Island History Project

According to the rezoning of 2009, permitted uses include:

–Open and enclosed amusements with limited accessory retail. Amusement uses would also include virtual reality and simulated gaming, dark rides, recreational sports facilities and water parks.

–Restaurants of any size, including those with entertainment and dancing. It would also include other complementary uses to amusements uses such as performance venues, bathhouses, breweries, tattoo parlors or wedding chapels.

–Retail and service uses complementary to amusement uses and beach activities such as arts and crafts production and sales, bicycle sales and repair, gift shops, and beach furniture stores. These uses would be limited in size and frontage.

Related posts on ATZ…

January 29, 2015: Coney Island 2015: Subway Cafe, Sushi Lounge, IHOP, Checkers, Johnny Rockets

December 5, 2014: Wahlburgers Burger Franchise to Open in Coney Island

September 11, 2013: Subway Cafe to Replace Furniture Store on Coney Island’s Surf Ave

December 19, 2012: Will Coney Island’s Surf Ave Become a Mecca for Franchises?

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Wahlburgers Coney Island

The location of the Wahlburgers celebrity burger franchise opening in Coney Island was publicly revealed for the first time today when signage went up on Thor Equities’ retail building. It’s no surprise –Coney insiders had already guessed because there’s one vacant retail space built for a restaurant and no other comparable spot for lease in the amusement area. In addition to the ground floor, the restaurant space offers rooftop seating.

The sign says “Coming Spring 2015 – Wahlburgers – Our Family – Our Story – Our Burgers” and promotes their website. The next guessing game is when the celebrity brothers–Donnie, Mark and Paul Wahlberg– and a TV crew will turn up in Coney for a site visit. A May 1st opening date was previously announced.

The Wahlberg family’s adventures in the burger business is the subject of an A & E TV reality series that debuted in January 2014. The Coney Island location and the store’s opening are being scripted into the show’s 2015 season.

The building on Surf and Stillwell Avenues across from Nathan’s Famous has been long touted by Thor as “The Retail Ride of a Lifetime.” Current tenants include It’Sugar, Rainbow Shop, Surf & Stillwell Brooklyn Apparel Co. and two mini-arcades required by the City’s zoning law. Wahlburgers’ immediate neighbors will be the Brooklyn Nets Shop and Brooklyn Rock, which sells hand-printed clothing and gifts.

The company announced in December that New York-based franchisee Big Apple Burgers is preparing to launch six restaurants in Manhattan and one in Coney Island. Wahlburgers will join a number of other national chains and franchises slated to open this year in Coney Island. As ATZ reported earlier this week, Johnny Rockets, Checkers, and Subway Cafe are currently under construction, IHOP is finalizing a lease deal, and the Boston Beer Corporation got a license to operate a brewery to house their Coney Island Brewing Company division.

UPDATE April 27, 2015:

Last week, Wahlburgers released details of the 6,800 square foot franchise restaurant currently under construction in Coney Island and slated to open this summer. Read more at Coney Island 2015: Update on Wahlburgers, Temporary Fair at Thor’s Vacant Lots

Related posts on ATZ…

January 20, 2015: Boston Beer Corp’s Coney Island Brewery Gets Conditional Approval from NYSLA

January 29, 2015: Coney Island 2015: Subway Cafe, Sushi Lounge, IHOP, Checkers, Johnny Rockets

December 5, 2014: Wahlburgers Burger Franchise to Open in Coney Island

December 19, 2012: Will Coney Island’s Surf Ave Become a Mecca for Franchises?

Read Full Post »

Subway Cafe

Subway Cafe, Surf Avenue. January 25, 2015. Photo © Tricia Vita

More than two years after ATZ posted “Will Coney Island’s Surf Ave Become a Mecca for Franchises?” (December 19, 2012), the trend continues. Across the street from Luna Park, an IHOP is finalizing a deal to open a pancake restaurant while a Subway Cafe has their sign up and is set to open a year-and-a-half after signing a lease. New FEMA regulations after Sandy are partly to blame for construction delays at Subway Cafe, a restaurant concept featuring “Tuscany-style decor” aiming for a “coffeehouse ambiance” and a layout a little larger than an average Subway.

Sushi Lounge

Sushi Lounge, Surf Avenue at W 12th Street. January 25, 2015. Photo © Tricia Vita

Amid the influx of already opened national chains and franchises such as It’Sugar, Applebee’s, Rita’s Italian Ice, and Dunkin’ Donuts on Surf Avenue, there have also been a few new Mom & Pops like Lunatics Ice Cream and Luna Park Cafe (no connection to the park). An outpost of Piece of Velvet, a cake and cupcake shop with locations in Fort Greene and Harlem, is opening across the street from old-time Mom & Pops Williams Candy and Pete’s Clam Stop

Sushi is coming to the corner of Surf Ave. and West 12th Street, across the street from Coney Island USA. Shalyapin Wonderwheel Karaoke (no connection to Wonder Wheel Park) morphed into Surf 12 Club and Lounge, which features live music, but their newest sign says “SUSHI LOUNGE.” A spokesman told ATZ they wanted to do something different. A new display case stood ready to serve desserts. Quartet of Catastrophe will play on Friday at 9:30pm.

Applebee's

Signs in Applebee’s windows on Surf Avenue. January 25, 2015. Photo © Tricia Vita

Applebee’s, which opened in June 2013, has proven popular with locals and extended its hours. Multiple signs on the street and one in the sky announce they now serve breakfast daily from 8am till 12 noon. A sideshow banner for Gary Dreifus’ “Magic at Coney!!!” graces the window. After completing its run at Coney Island USA, the magical variety show has moved across the street to Applebee’s second floor for Sunday performances in the winter.

Unlike Manhattan, where Mom and Pops are being forced out by landlords who triple the rent and then turn around and lease to chains or upscale businesses, the new franchises on Coney Island’s Surf Avenue are replacing illegal furniture stores which have existed for years in defiance of the zoning. Until the early 1980’s the north side of Surf was home to individually-owned penny arcades and a variety of rides including bumper cars, carousels and even a Jumbo Jet-style coaster. By the time the last ride– Coney Island’s B & B Carousell — closed in 2005, the north side was known as the wrong side of Surf Avenue to locate a business because of the lack of foot traffic. Not any more.

Checkers Coney Island

Checkers in Stillwell Terminal, Surf Avenue. January 25, 2015. Photo © Tricia Vita

Two other previously announced and long under construction franchises that are expected to open in 2015 are Checkers in Stillwell Terminal, which has finally put its sign up, and its next door neighbor, Johnny Rockets. Like Subway Cafe, these businesses have been delayed by new and ever-changing post-Sandy building regulations. Johnny Rockets is waiting for approval of a storm surge resistant front to resume construction.

Just off Surf, on Stillwell Avenue, Thor Equities’ retail building is the site of New York City’s first Wahlburgers –Donnie, Mark and Paul Wahlberg’s burger franchise– opening in May and written into the script of the Wahlberg’s reality show on A & E.

UPDATE January 30, 2015:

The Coney Island Brewing Company, whose craft beers celebrate the iconography of Coney Island, may soon have a place to call its own on Surf Avenue. Boston Beer Corporation, which applied in September for a license to open a brewery under the trade name Coney Island Brewing Company at 1904 Surf Avenue, received a conditional letter of approval from the NY State Liquor Authority last week.

Johnny Rockets Coney Island

Johnny Rockets, Surf Avenue, January 25, 2015. Photo © Tricia Vita

Related posts on ATZ…

May 26, 2014: Photo Album: Opening Day for 5 New Businesses & Exhibits in Coney Island

January 3, 2014: New Year, New Franchise: Rita’s Italian Ice Coming to Coney Island

September 11, 2013: Subway Cafe to Replace Furniture Store on Coney Island’s Surf Ave

February 13, 2013: Thor’s Coney Island: Candy Retailer It’Sugar to Open Surf Ave Store

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Wahlburg family

The Wahlburg family at last month’s grand opening of Wahlburgers Toronto

Wahlburgers, a burger restaurant founded in Boston by the three Wahlberg brothers–actors Mark and Donnie, and chef Paul Wahlberg– is the latest national chain set to come to Coney Island. The company announced today that New York-based franchisee Big Apple Burgers is preparing to launch six restaurants in Manhattan and one in Coney Island.

“We’re confident that our knowledge and expertise will be a great asset to the Wahlburgers brand,” said John Cestare of Big Apple Burgers. “It’s exciting to partner with the Wahlberg family and brand knowing we share the same values and family-work culture.” Ten days ago, John Castare registered the name “Coney Burgers LLC” after registering “Big Apple Burgers LLC” earlier in November. Since the deal has just been signed, no info on the franchise’s location has been released yet. (Update: here it is!)

The Wahlberg family’s adventures in the burger business is the subject of an A & E TV reality series that debuted in January. The Coney Island location, which is expected to open in May, will be scripted into the show. After opening the first restaurant in 2011, they made deals to open locations in Las Vegas, Philadelphia and Toronto. Today’s announcement also included 20 franchise locations in Florida.

Wahlburgers

Wahlburgers menu via Wahlburgersrestaurant.com

Will the Wahlbergs’ celebrity help them win the hamburger market share in Coney? Boardwalk mainstays Nathan’s, Tom’s, Ruby’s, and Paul’s Daughter have burgers on their menus as does Peggy O’Neill’s on Surf Avenue. White Castle Express serves their sliders at two seasonal locations in Luna Park. Burger franchises currently under construction in Coney include a Checkers in Stillwell Terminal and a Johnny Rockets next door. The Johnny Rockets as well as a Subway Cafe on the north side of Surf have faced construction delays due to post-Sandy FEMA regulations requiring them to raise the floor by 2-1/2 feet. “Some of the regulations they’re making up as they go along,” broker Joe Vitacco told ATZ.

No word on the status of the Burger-Fi which Thor Equities’ Glenn Vogel said last spring was coming to their retail building on Stillwell. Has Wahlburgers grabbed that spot, which includes a roof deck? It’s a pretty good bet. Rumor has it that’s the location and it’s set to be revealed during the reality show. Check back for updates.

UPDATE April 27, 2015:

Last week, Wahlburgers released details of the 6,800 square foot franchise restaurant currently under construction in Coney Island and slated to open this summer. Read more at Coney Island 2015: Update on Wahlburgers, Temporary Fair at Thor’s Vacant Lots

UPDATE January 31, 2015:

The location of the Wahlburgers celebrity burger franchise opening in Coney Island was publicly revealed for the first time today when signage went up on Thor Equities’ retail building on Stillwell Avenue.

Related posts on ATZ…

November 18, 2014: Coney Island Brewing Co. Applies for License for Surf Ave Brewery

May 25, 2014: Photo Album: Opening Day for 5 New Businesses & Exhibits in Coney Island

September 11, 2013: Subway Cafe to Replace Furniture Store on Coney Island’s Surf Ave

December 19, 2012: Will Coney Island’s Surf Ave Become a Mecca for Franchises?

Read Full Post »

Little Caesars

Little Caesars $5 Pizza at Thor’s Retail Building at Surf and Stillwell. May 31, 2014. Photo © Tricia Vita via flickr

The latest chain to put its name on the glittering marquee of Thor Equities building in the new Coney Island is Little Caesars Pizza. Over Memorial Day Weekend, there was a cart selling Little Caesars “Hot-n-Ready” $5.00 pizzas in front of Thor’s building at Surf and Stillwell. The price was right and they sold out. Afterwards, signs remained taped to the outside of the window advertising the food franchise. We wondered if it was a tryout by a franchisee or guerrilla marketing. The official sign for “Little Caesars Express” went up last week. The Detroit-based Little Caesars is the nation’s third largest pizza chain with over 35 locations in New York City. It joins Applebee’s, Dunkin Donuts, Subway, Rita’s Italian Ice, It’Sugar and Rainbow Shops in making Surf and Stillwell a new mecca for chains and franchises.

What’s up with the vacant “ARCADE” next door? According to the Coney Island Rumor Mill, an arcade operator has agreed to fill the building’s two dummy arcades with games but paperwork issues are delaying the deal. No surprise there. Making a mockery of the zoning laws, the designated “arcades” have remained vacant ever since the building’s first tenant, Miami candy chain It’Sugar, opened last year. The 2009 Coney Island Rezoning requires the building to have a percentage of amusements equal to the square footage allocated for the arcades. If something other than amusements went into the space, the building’s C of O would be in jeopardy.

Why doesn’t Thor CEO Joe Sitt just throw some arcade machines in the “arcades” and open them up to the public instead of taking advantage of what appears to be a loophole in the zoning law that allows the spaces to remain vacant? Based on Sitt’s eviction of amusements from his property (“Thor’s Coney Island: What Stillwell Looked Like Before Joe Sitt,” ATZ, March 3, 2010), it’s our opinion that he’s not in any hurry to replace them.

The zoning states that “At least 15 percent of the Stillwell Avenue and West 10th Street street frontage of any zoning lot shall be occupied by Use Group A1 uses at the ground floor level.” Use Group “A1″ includes amusement arcades as well as open booths with games of skill or chance, such as water racing and shooting galleries, which used to occupy the spot in the demolished Henderson Building where the Brooklyn Nets Shop is now.

Related posts on ATZ…

March 11, 2014: Thor’s Coney Island: BurgerFi, Arcade Coming to Stillwell & Surf

October 17, 2013: The New Coney Island: Thor Equities Vacant Lots, Dummy Arcades

September 2, 2013: The New Coney Island: A Tale of Two Jones Walks

December 19, 2012: Will Coney Island’s Surf Ave Become a Mecca for Franchises?

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