The food industry is continuing to pick up the pieces that the COVID-19 left in their path.
Brooklyn’s East New York in particular had the highest per capita death rate from COVID-19 during the first wave of the coronavirus pandemic, followed by mass unemployment as many of the area’s residents who were working low-paying jobs in restaurants that had to initially shutter. Now those establishments are starting to come back but could reopen only for outside seating and at 25% capacity.
In an effort to revitalize the neighborhood, the owners of the Queens-based eatery East Coast Street Tacos are launching the Brooklyn Entrepreneurial Kitchen as well as a new location of their eatery on the same block in East New York. The owners, Ruben Angarita and Ivan Vichinsky, decided to come up with a solution after they watched both the neighborhood and their industry reeling in the aftermath of COVID-19 and then the government’s failure to pass another stimulus.
“We were fortunate in the pandemic,” said Angarita. “Our Astoria location was able to do take-out and when all the Jones Beach restaurants had to close, we were invited to come in with our food truck. It was very profitable.”
“My family has been investing in East New York since the 1950s,” said Vichinsky. “When this was mostly empty land we had an arcade with go-karts on our property. Ruben and I used to play there on the weekends since we were 8-years-old.”
Though the go-carts have since left, the property, located at 521 Stanely Avenue in East New York, is still owned by the Vichinsky family. When their last tenet closed due to the pandemic, Vichinsky and Angarita decided it was a good time to open a new East Coast Street Tacos location and a community not-for-profit kitchen with outdoor seating and tons of cold storage.
The Brooklyn Entrepreneurial Kitchen will serve as a food manufacturing site and will offer youth Food Certifications. The site will also mentor local food entrepreneurs in how to go from the first recipe to retail distribution.
“We can help anyone wanting to go into the food business,” says Angarita. “They can come in and manufacture their food and store it in the 5,000 square feet of cold storage in the back. They can start like I did with a food truck or Tent Setup or we can train them how to sell to stores. If you have a great salsa recipe, come on in. We’ll show you what it takes to source ingredients, cook it to scale, bottle it, and get it out to stores. And we teach people the practical aspects of the business. You may have the best brownie in the world, but nobody is going to pay $10 dollars for one so we can help you tweak the recipe.”
The plan for the new location and community kitchen is coming in two parts. First, with the opening of the new East Coast Street Tacos location Angarita and Vichinsky will be hiring as many people as possible. Second, 75 yards down the street they are building are donating space in a state-of-the-art community kitchen and a massive cold storage area on the 7,000 square feet still owned by the Vichinsky family.
“It was very challenging to live in what many believe was ground zero within New York State which was the epicenter of the pandemic. For people to now have the opportunity to learn how to be in business for themselves, it could have a big impact,” said Angarita. “If you ever dreamed of bringing your grandma’s recipe to market or something like that, this is the opportunity and this is the place to make it happen.”
Additionally, East Coast Tacos will be partnering to train youth in a 10-week course culminating in New York State food handling and knife work certifications. East Coast Street Tacos plans to hire some of the graduates so they can earn extra experience. The restaurant will also partner with local non-profits ManUp Inc. and DAPS (Drug Addict Prevention Society) to recruit youth looking for a better future.
“East Coast Street Tacos will be a new business in a new era for the neighborhood,” said Andre Mitchell, executive director and founder of ManUp Inc. “Hopefully, they will show the way for other businesses to partner with the community so that everyone benefits.”
The launch of the kitchen and the new East Coast Street Tacos location will kick off with a block party on Nov. 7 from 12 to 5 p.m. at 521 Stanley Avenue. Guests can enjoy free food, local DJs and the unveiling of a street art mural by Francisco Aponte. Social distancing will be observed during the block party.
“I believe this is more than just about business. Our city, this neighborhood especially, has been through a lot. Our country has so much dividing us. Food brings people together,” said Angarita.