Restaurant Owner Says Bed-Stuy’s Biz Needs Help

BED-STUY, BROOKLYN — A local restaurant owner is sounding the alarm: Bed-Stuy’s local business are in danger of going busted. And they need help.

“If you start losing these small businesses, what I think you’ll start losing is the fabric of the community,” said restaurant owner Frantz Metellus. “That’s what keeps people sane — it’s community.”

Metellus quit his career as a lawyer to open Rustik Tavern at 471 Dekalb Ave. in Bed-Stuy with the idea of ​​creating a community-minded space for the neighborhood.

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Fifteen years later, and Rustik has become a focal point for residents in the neighborhood.

But COVID has changed the world so much, he said, that many businesses have loaded themselves with debt in order to keep the doors open and staff paid.

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Metellus, who is also a board member of the New York City Hospitality Alliance, says many local restaurants and business still find that revenue is 25 percent lower than 2019 and pandemic-related grants and loans that helped at first have dried up help has left many to take out business loans or close up shop entirely.

Rustik, he said, has over $500,000 in debt, much of it spent to keep staff paid and to try and develop adaptations to the new COVID business environment.

What’s at risk is not just a business here or there, he said, but a neighborly community that anyone can participate in.

Most people, he said, want to be able to find a community “just by walking into a door.”

“People go to barber shops and sit down and don’t even get a haircut,” Metellus said. “It’s community they go there for.”

From the start, Metellus said that Rustik felt the impact of being a place where people in Bed-Stuy could come together.

As his tavern’s doors first opened, Metellus remembered, it was at the same time as former President Barack Obama’s first presidential run.

Metellus said Rustik hosted viewing parties, talks and other events all year surrounding the election, and he saw how an organic community can form simply by having space for people to gather.

“People who didn’t know each other met each other here: ‘Oh, you live here live?’ ‘Y’all, we didn’t know that.’ Even when politics were different it was so cordial and the energy was so great surrounding that. So for me, it was like: ‘Yeah, this is the right thing to do.’ It’s bringing the community together.”

As time went on, Metellus quit his day job as a real estate lawyer and he started hosting even more events and neighborhood groups, teaming up with local politicians, nonprofits, PTA groups and more.

“You name it,” he said, “and we’ve done it.”

“Once you host your first wedding, once you host your first christening, once you start hosting your first neighborhood talks,” Metellus said, “the community impact is real.”

He told Patch that Rustik had become a real neighborhood amenity.

But now, years into the new world created by the pandemic, business has still not picked up.

Winter is usually slow but is in years past is buoyed by a strong holiday season, Metellus said.

Not this year. Or last year, either.

“People are going out less,” he said.

Maybe it’s because of changing habits, or maybe it’s inflation, Metellus wonders.

And now he wonders if the new business-friendly mayor will help struggling small businesses who are all struggling to pay their bills.

One way Metellus suggested the city could help is if the city issued more contracts with local restaurants.

“We have an influx of immigrants coming in here,” Metellus said. “Who’s feeding them? Is it big business? Is a small business? Maybe some of the smaller contracts can get can go to smaller restaurants. That would help.”

Metellus described himself as an optimist, and hopes that there will eventually be a return to pre-pandemic activity one day.

But until then, he hopes the city can find new ways to partner with small business that he says form so much of the community in the neighborhood.

He even thinks that without these spaces, where people can gather with others in the neighborhood, people’s mental health will worsen.

“I think [these small businesses] keep people grounded because there’s someone like them they can see,” Metellus said, “that’s going through similar things.”

“This is not a lucrative industry. Not at all,” Metellus said. “There’s another reason they’re doing this — not for the money. And it’s for the love.”

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