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Q&A with Phil Mouquinho, owner/chef of PJ Charlton Restaurant
Phil Mouquinho is known as the poster boy for Hudson Square and has owned and operated PJ Charlton for 34 years. But what is now an Italian restaurant serving up authentic Northern Italian cuisine started off as a burgers and fries place, where workers in the neighborhood could grab a quick bite. He then switched to serving American dishes in the early 1990s before changing the menu once more, this time to Italian. Now PJ Charlton is known for its rigatoni, chicken marsala and eggplant parmigiana and the signature Phil’s ravioli. Mouquinho was born and raised on Thompson Street in Greenwich Village.
What’s the biggest change you’ve seen in Hudson Square?
My entire life there was a series of factories here, paper merchants, ink merchants and other workers when the dot-com companies moved here. Besides trucks coming up to the loading docks the streets were empty. Now I see a lot of baby carriages and more people visiting the area. And the new improvements will draw more people down here.
What is the biggest challenge facing the neighborhood?
At 5 o’ clock it becomes a ghost town and on weekends it’s a bit quiet. More businesses will make the neighborhood better; I welcome the competition. There’s about 96% commercial and 4% residential here and it doesn’t work. If you go to Flatiron or TriBeCa you will not see such an off-balance mix. But soon you’ll see dry cleaning businesses, more food stores and restaurants here -- what you need for a vibrant neighborhood.
Where do you see Hudson Square headed?
I think it will transform into a viable neighborhood in my lifetime. One day we will have candy stores, Laundromats, and amenities to bring more people here. It’s close to the river and Pier 40 is nearby. I envision a greenmarket there, a Cineplex maybe, restaurants and a bridge over Houston Street directly into the pier. It’s slowly happening. I’m seeing the very early on the beginnings of a new neighborhood and that’s exciting.