Save Baby Buddha

Sometimes a restaurant is more than just a restaurant — especially when it’s one of the few affordable places left in the neighborhood. That’s the case with Baby Buddha, at Washington and Bethune Sts.

Last Sunday, about 30 residents from the far West Village rallied inside the popular Chinese eatery, stating that they have a strong petition drive going to keep the place open, and that it would be a crime to push out Baby Buddha. Some residents are vowing they will boycott any new business that comes into the space.

It’s unclear why the landlord — William Gottlieb Real Estate, with its principal, Neil Bender — wants to push out the beloved eatery. On Tuesday, a Gottlieb spokesperson gave The Villager the following statement: “William Gottlieb Real Estate commenced a nonpayment proceeding against Baby Buddha for its failure to pay outstanding rent and additional charges due under the lease. The matter is currently pending in court. Baby Buddha’s lease has expired pursuant to its terms. William Gottlieb Real Estate acted at all times in full compliance with the terms of the Baby Buddha lease. We are currently in lease negotiations with another restaurant operator for the lease of the space.”

This statement is completely disingenuous. Joey Wang, Baby Buddha’s owner, told The Villager she paid her rent through December. But Wang said she saw no reason to pay her $15,000 January rent — including the water bill and a “city tax” — after receiving a 30-day notice from Gottlieb that they would not renew her lease and that she would have to vacate by Jan. 31. Instead, she’s in court trying to reclaim as much of her $30,000 deposit as she can. She’s been on a month-to-month lease the last two years, though before that, had five-year and 10-year leases.

In short, Gottlieb has neither explained nor justified kicking out Baby Buddha. One could assume they want a higher-paying tenant.

Recent years have seen Chinese eat-in restaurants in the far West Village fall like dominos: Mama Buddha, Sung Chu Mei, Hunan Pan — all on Hudson St. Now, Baby Buddha… . (By the way, there was never any connection between Buddhas Mama and Baby — other than that Baby will soon also be defunct.) Apparently, at least two of these other restaurants may have been Gottlieb tenants.

There are still places like Suzie’s on Sixth Ave., one of our favorite Chinese restaurants — but these are probably too far away for many residents of Westbeth, which is a NORC (naturally occurring retirement community). Baby Buddha’s beauty is it’s right by Westbeth, and is like a community space, or an old-style Bleecker St. coffeehouse, for the senior residents; Wang lets them use the bathroom, drop in for a glass of ice water or a coffee. Her family staff is warm to them. It’s also popular with West Village Houses residents.

It’s this sense of community — and affordability — that will be lost if Baby Buddha closes. Wang is trying to find a new West Village space, but everything is too small or expensive. Meanwhile, Bus Stop Cafe, on Hudson St., is the only other local affordable place to eat, residents say.

Meanwhile, just as under his late uncle, Bill Gottlieb, under Bender, prominent Gottlieb properties sit vacant — most notably the historic Northern Dispensary on Waverly Place. Asked of any plans for the Dispensary, the Gottlieb spokesperson replied: “Not commenting on that.” And if Baby Buddha sits empty two decades, like the Dispensary? That would be a travesty, the worst possible outcome.

We hope Gottlieb rethinks Baby Buddha’s situation. This is a beloved eatery that has paid its rent since 1993. It’s a mystery why they are facing this unjust eviction. Please, consider the effect on the community.