The switch went fast. As presto as can be, a butcher shop at 503 Main Street became Wholesome Taqueria. Gone were the meats, replaced by rows of refreshing beverages. But new as this all is, its roots run deep into Roosevelt Island history.
by David Stone
The look is still a little rough, but according to comments on Facebook, the food isn’t. Since a promised Mexican restaurant failed to materialize five years ago, Roosevelt Islanders have craved burritos, flautas and tacos. Now, they are here.
On the Way from Gristedes to Mexico
From Day One, Wholesome Macelleria seemed a high-risk venture. The quality was great, but as with so much in the community, there were not enough potential customers to make it thrive.
Whole tightly packed neighborhoods in Manhattan fail to support butcher shops. At least that was my thought… until Jimmy Kim, one of Wholesome Taqueria’s owners, brought me up to date.
Red Apple Group, which owns the business now known as Foodtown, shut them down. But before any alarms get any louder, there’s a good reason behind the move, and it benefits Roosevelt Island.
The Foodtown Legacy
The first thing to know is that there is no such thing as a Foodtown corporate grocery store anymore. Foodtown is a cooperative with mostly independent operators under the umbrella of Allegiance Retail Services in New Jersey.
Thirty years ago, we used to walk across the street from our Manhattan Park apartment and get our groceries at Sloans. It was less than half the size of the current Foodtown. When Red Apple Group, owned by oil and gas billionaire Jim Catsimatidis, took over, it used the name of the recently acquired Gristedes Brothers.
“Cats” operates Red Apple and other markets around the city.
For Roosevelt Island, Red Apple expanded the market, bringing in a wider variety of foods and services. But its investment came with a cost.
Because no retailer in its right mind would plunk down millions for a large supermarket in our small community, RIOC negotiated a special lease deal. (Yes, RIOC once acted with the community in mind, not its own payroll.)
That deal was a “no compete” clause. No other business on Roosevelt Island would be allowed to compete with Gristede’s primary operations.
There’s a long history of Roosevelt Islanders’ complaints about Catsimatidis, from prices to quality, but the truth is, without him, you’d have an empty shell underneath Motorgate. The neighborhood is just too small for what we’ve got without concessions.
Thus, Wholesome Taqueria
While informing Kim and his partner before they invested in meats would have been better, when Red Apple exercised its rights, Hudson-Related’s David Kramer stepped in. Kramer runs Shops on Main and has kept much of the current retail environment alive through his support and ideas.
Why not try a Mexican restaurant? he suggested. Keeping 503 Main Street viable mattered.
The Wholesome partnership moved swiftly, more swiftly than you’d think possible. But being light on your feet supports retail health.
Love or Just Interested in Trying Mexican Food?
Jimmy Kim and his staff are ready to serve. A large menu, including multiple vegetarian offerings, is available for dining in or taking out. And Kim says he will deliver too. (Telephone: 646-758-8483).
It’s a surprise, but it’s all good. For now, we have Mexican food and our supermarket. It’s a good deal for Roosevelt Island.