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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.

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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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Lobster roll Paul's Daughter

Lobster rolls are new on the menu at Paul’s Daughter. June 7, 2014. Photo © Tricia Vita via flickr

Lobster roll aficionados are advised to run right over to Paul’s Daughter in Coney Island to try the newest addition to their menu — and currently available weekends only– delectable chunks of Maine lobster packed into a toasted bun. ATZ tasted one of the Boardwalk eatery’s much-anticipated lobster rolls on Saturday, having been given a heads up by store owner Tina Georgoulakos. Tina and her family have been working on the recipe for months. The delicate sauce has a secret ingredient that enhances the naturally sweet and succulent taste of the lobster. If the store’s beloved Mama Burger figure doesn’t get her lost burger back, maybe she could hold a lobster roll instead?

Paul's Daughter

Bartender and counterman at the lobster bar at Paul’s Daughter on the Coney Island Boardwalk. June 7, 2014. Photo © Tricia Vita via flickr

Tina’s father Paul Georgoulakos aka “The Chief” co-founded the restaurant formerly known as Gregory & Paul’s in 1962 and still supervises its clam bar. The renovated building, which was originally one of hot dog inventor Charles Feltman‘s restaurants, remains a masterpiece of vernacular signage. Among our favorites signs are the counterman’s cry “Hey! Get It Get It!” and the dapper Mr. Shrimp. (more…)

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Vintage Sign inside Denny’s Ice Cream, Coney Island. February 28, 2011. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

In 2012 ATZ asked “Will Coney Island’s Surf Ave Become a Mecca for Franchises?” (December 19, 2012). With a slew of chains and franchisees coming to the new, year-round Coney Island, the answer is yes, but two new Mom & Pops — Lunatics Ice Cream and Luna Park Cafe– are under construction and racing to open for business in May.

On the south side of Surf Avenue next to Popeye’s, the former Island Grocery is being transformed into a new walk-in shop called Lunatics Ice Cream. Dennis Corines, whose Denny’s Ice Cream operated on Surf from 1968 until he sold it to Coney Island USA and it was destroyed by Sandy, is a consultant to the owners. They’ll be bringing back his vanilla, chocolate and banana pistachio soft serve as well as cotton candy, popcorn, jelly apples and funnel cake. The projected opening date is May 15.

Coney Island Post-Sandy

Coney Island Post-Sandy: Interior Demolition of Storm-Ravaged Denny’s Ice Cream, Surf Avenue. November 17, 2012. Photo © Tricia Vita via flickr

On the north side of Surf Avenue across from the Cyclone roller coaster, a new Mom & Pop eatery is under construction in one of the former furniture stores. Set to open as early as May 1st, the 2,400 square foot space is divided into three sections: pizzeria, frozen yogurt counter, and a cafe serving burgers and sandwiches. Co-owner Mike Kukaj tells ATZ that the name of the restaurant will be Luna Park Cafe.

Luna Park Cafe

Luna Park Cafe: New Cafe Under Construction on North Side of Surf Avenue. April 23, 2014. Photo © Tricia Vita

The original Luna Park (1903-1944) was on the north side of Surf Avenue, where Luna Park Houses and Luna Park Furniture are now. Until the early 1980′s the north side was home to individually-owned penny arcades and a variety of rides including bumper cars, carousels and even a Jumbo Jet-style coaster. Philips Candy Store, now located in Staten Island, was the anchor of Stillwell Terminal from 1930 until 2000 when the terminal was rebuilt and they had to move out.

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. Now it is home to Coney Island Bar & Grill, Grimaldi’s Pizzeria and Applebee’s, which has plans to open a sidewalk cafe.

Under Construction Surf Avenue

New Mom & Pop Business Under Construction on North Side of Surf Avenue, Its name will be “Luna Park Cafe.” April 23, 2014. Photo © Tricia Vita

Among the new chains and franchisees expected to open this year in Coney Island are Johnny Rockets, currently under construction on the north side of Surf, as well as Burger-Fi, Subway Cafe and Red Mango. Along with Applebee’s, It’Sugar and Rita’s Italian Ice are already open on Surf Avenue, and there are a 24-hour Dunkin Donuts/Baskin Robbins and Subway in Stillwell Terminal.

Johnny Rockets

Building for Johnny Rockets Under Construction on Surf Avenue, Coney Island. April 21, 2014. Photo © Tricia Vita

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December 31, 2013: Amusing the Zillion’s Coney Island 2013 Year in Review

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

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Steve Bitetzakis

Steve Bitetzakis in front of his restaurant on the Coney Island Boardwalk. November 6, 2010. Photo © Jim Kiernan via jamienyc/flickr

Coney Island lost one of its own last night. Steve Bitetzakis, 54, the owner of Steve’s Grill House located on the Coney Island Boardwalk from 1993 until 2011, passed away after a long battle with cancer.

Decorative flags, flowerpots, hand-painted signage and ample seating gave Steve’s Grill House a homey ambiance. Friends remembered him as a nice guy who knew all of his customers and would help out people who were hungry. “He’d say, you can pay me when you have the money, but I’m sure they never did,” said retired arcade operator Stanley Fox. “But he was that kind of guy.”

Door of the Grill House. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i

Handpainted Sign on Door of the Grill House. August 1, 2009. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i

The restaurateur was the last hold out of the “Coney Island 8″ evicted from the Boardwalk by Zamperla. In February 2012, he called off plans to have his modular building moved down Stillwell and instead took a buyout. Steve invested in a state-of-the-art concession trailer which opened for Easter of last year on Thor Equities’ Stillwell Avenue lot leased to the BK Festival.

Unfortunately, he lost his location to Cha Cha’s Club Atlantis and had to move to another lot leased by the festival where he was not able to open for business. The BK Festival’s plan for satellite locations on Surf Avenue called for opening the fencing during business hours but it turned out that city regulations did not permit it. Steve’s shuttered trailer remained parked on the Surf Avenue lot until a few weeks ago when all of the vehicles on the lot were towed away to a City pound.

Steve's Grill House

Steve's New Grill House concession trailer at the BK Festival on Stillwell Avenue. April 8, 2012. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

It was sad to see Steve’s Grill House leave Coney Island since we knew he was ill and his restaurant was not likely to be coming back. There was no spot for him to lease in the new Coney Island, even though there are still empty lots.

Steve’s family has a long history of operating food concessions in Coney Island. His father Gregory Bitetzakis was the co-owner of Gregory & Paul’s, which opened more than 50 years ago. After Gregory retired in 2009, the restaurant changed its name to Paul’s Daughter. Steve first got sand in his shoes working for his father in the G & P’s on West 10th Street opposite the Cyclone. “He wanted to be in Coney Island more than anything,” said an old friend.

A wake will be held at the Dahill Funeral Home, 2525 65th Street, Brooklyn, on Tuesday, May 21st from 5 until 9 pm.

Grill House coney Island Boardwalk

Steve’s Grill House, Coney Island Boardwalk. Last day of season, Oct 31, 2010. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

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Dreamland Bell at Grimaldi's

1885 Bell from Iron Pier at Dreamland Park on Display at Grimaldi’s Coney Island. Mary 12, 2013. Photo © Tricia Vita via flickr

Grimaldi’s in Coney Island, which renovated and reopened on April 30 after being flooded by Superstorm Sandy, is now offering a slice of Coney Island history along with their pizza pies. The “Dreamland Bell” that survived the Dreamland Fire of 1911 was put on display yesterday at the pizza restaurant, where it is a powerful symbol of Coney’s comeback from Sandy. The Bell can be seen through the open storefront by pedestrians walking on the north side of Surf Avenue. It is expected to be on display at the popular pizza restaurant for two to three weeks the summer, store owner Joe Silvestri told ATZ. (Fall Update: The Bell is there through September 27, 2013 and will return in April 2014.)

The 1885 bronze bell cast by James Gregory once welcomed steamship passengers arriving at the New Iron Pier to visit Coney Island’s Dreamland Park, which was on the site of the New York Aquarium. After a 20 year quest, Coney Island diver Gene Ritter found the Bell twenty-five feet underwater, about one hundred yards offshore. On September 3, 2009, nearly a century after the fire that destroyed Dreamland and the Pier, the bell was raised from the ocean floor and a day later was put on exhibit at the Coney Island History Project.

Vintage Ad: Iron Steamboat Co. The Only All Water Route to Coney Island.  Photo by Tricia Vita via Coney Island History Project flickr

Vintage Ad: Iron Steamboat Co. “The Only All Water Route” to Coney Island. Photo © Tricia Vita via Coney Island History Project flickr

“The reason we’re doing it now at Grimaldi’s is because of the devastation of Sandy,” Ritter told ATZ. “We’re trying to help them out.” The fact that the restaurant is decorated with poster-size photos of Coney Island’s historic Dreamland Park and Luna Park “makes it a natural,” Ritter added. Later this week, Charles Denson of the Coney Island History Project will install a plaque with the history of the Dreamland Bell and archival photos.

When the Dreamland Bell made its debut at the History Project on Labor Day Weekend in 2009, joy and optimism about the future of Coney Island was reflected in the faces of many friends and acquaintances who made a special trip to see the Bell and ring it. The discovery of the Bell symbolized and presaged the rebirth of Coney Island because it marked the return of something that was thought to have been irrevocably destroyed. No one expected the return of an artifact lost nearly one hundred years ago in a fire, and certainly not such an important artifact as the Dreamland Bell. It’s fitting that the Bell has been brought back to ring in Coney Island’s comeback from the destruction of Sandy.

Grimaldi’s, 1215 Surf Avenue, Brooklyn, New York 11224

Gene Ritter Dreamand Bell

Gene Ritter with Russell of Grimaldi’s in front of photo of Dreamland Tower at Grimaldi’s Surf Avenue restaurant. May 12, 2013. Photo © Tricia Vita

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April 24, 2013: Photo Album: Coney Island April 2013 Construction Update

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Grimaldi's Pizza

Grimaldi’s Pizza Take-Out Order, Coney Island. July 14, 2012. Photo © Tricia Vita via flickr

Renovations are underway at Grimaldi’s Pizzeria, which expects to re-open its Sandy-damaged restaurant on Coney Island’s Surf Avenue in two weeks. “May 1st is my birthday,” Grimaldi’s operator Joe Silvestri told ATZ. “We’ll be open for my birthday.” Their pizza was a favorite of workers in the amusement area. One of our very first takeout pies is pictured above.

The Coney Island outpost of the famed Brooklyn Bridge pizzeria had been open only four months old when Superstorm Sandy struck. The restaurant’s metal gate gave way to Sandy and the interior of the pizzeria was wrecked by the wind and flood waters. The cobwebs in Jim McDonnell’s photo were part of the Halloween decor and look genuinely eerie. We dined at Grimaldi’s just two days before Sandy and can’t wait to welcome them back.

UPDATE April 30, 2013

Grimaldi’s reopened today! The pizzeria is currently hiring a pizza chef, waiters, kitchen help and bartender. They’re expecting their beer and liquor license to come through. Updates soon!

Hurricane Sandy Aftermath in Coney Island

Surf Avenue, Coney Island: Interior of Grimaldi’s Pizzeria. October 30, 2012. Photo © Jim McDonnell

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Cha Cha's

Cha Cha’s Surf Avenue Bar and Grill, Coney Island. April 2012

Cha Cha’s of Coney Island, which relocated to Surf Avenue last spring after losing their lease on the Boardwalk, is closing for good. The announcement was made last night via the bar and restaurant’s Facebook and twitter:

Reactions from fans and followers ranged from “NOOOO!” and “I’ll miss those gogo times we had!!” to “Thanks for the good times over the years.”

As recently as January, the plan was to fix the place up after flood damage from Sandy and make a go of it. “OK! we had our meeting and the game plan is being set in motion to rebuild and open the old Cha Chas space on Surf Ave by spring. As info comes in we’ll keep everyone informed with the new and improved space on Surf Ave.”

Yesterday’s announcement did not give a reason for the closing. Given the challenges faced by businesses in their rebuilding efforts, we’d have to guess that Sandy is responsible for shuttering this Coney Island mainstay, which had survived the death of its manager “JT” and eviction by Zamperla. Cha Cha’s former Boardwalk location was the site of the original Club Atlantis and is now Tom’s Restaurant.

Cha Cha's Coney Island

Coney Island After Sandy: Cleanup at Cha Cha’s Surf Avenue, November 17, 2012. Photo © Tricia Vita

John “Cha Cha” Ciarcia also owns Cha Cha’s In Bocca Al Lupo in Manhattan’s Little Italy. Last season, in addition to relocating his Coney Island bar to Surf Avenue, he put his name on Cha Cha’s Steeplechase Park on Thor’s Stillwell Avenue property. The park had carnival rides as well as an al fresco bar. Will Cha Cha’s name turn up in another location in Coney Island? That depends whether he still has sand in his shoes after Sandy. We’re not saying goodbye to Coney Island’s “Home of Wild Women and Wise Guys” and “Live Entertainment for the Hole Family” just yet.

Cha Cha's

Cha Cha’s Bar & Cafe on the Coney Island Boardwalk. June 1, 2009. Photo © Tricia Vita

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