Friday, March 27, 2009

Gage & Tollner gives way to Arby's

Arby's fans may be licking their lips over the news that the fast-food chain will be setting up shop in Downtown Brooklyn, but the news has preservationists roiled because the site is the former home of Gage & Tollner, which closed in 2007.

Will you be dining on popcorn chicken when the restaurant opens, possibly by the summer, or bemoaning the loss of Brooklyn history? (A nice comparison of the two restaurants can be found here.)

The story after the jump.

Photo: The former Gage & Tollner restaurant on Fulton Street

Gage & Tollner gives way to Arby's

By Thomas Tracy

(Published in the 3.26 issue of 24/Seven)

It’s an historic downward spiral that has Brooklynites licking their lips, especially if they’re fans of roast beef sandwiches and popcorn chicken.

It was announced last week that the Arby’s fast food chain is taking a stab at downtown Brooklyn’s restaurant market and will be slinging roast beef slices from the former Gage & Tollner restaurant, a historic neighborhood restaurant on Fulton Street.

After serving foodies in downtown Brooklyn for well over a century, Gage & Tollner shut its doors in 2004. A TGI Friday’s opened in the landmarked spot near Smith Street, but closed down in 2007.

This January, owners of the property finalized a lease with Arby’s franchisee Raymond Chera, who hopes to open by this summer.

“We wanted to come into the Brooklyn market with a splash,” Chera said. “There were a number of different places we were looking to open in but this site is absolutely gorgeous. It’s a great spot for our first restaurant.”

Yet it’s not an easy feat to open a fast food restaurant in a landmarked building.

While neighborhood history buffs and landmark purists may balk at the idea of a fast food chain sprouting up in a building that once welcomed stage and screen legends Jimmy Durante and Mae West, Chera says that he only intends to make modest changes.

The changes were still being mulled over by the city’s Landmarks Preservation Commission as this paper went to press. A public hearing, where members of Community Board 2 would be able to weigh in on Chera’s plan, has yet to be scheduled.

Chera believes that the changes he plans to bring won’t ruffle any feathers.

“We’re not putting in any more signage than what was there before and none of the counters, chairs and booths we plan to bring in will be bolted to the floor,” he said. “Nothing is going to penetrate or touch the space.”

Reaction to the Arby’s -- the first to open in Brooklyn -- was mixed, with most diners either voicing excitement or shrugging their shoulders.

A few bemoaned the fact that the new eatery will be opening in the Gage and Tollner site, which they said was a piece of Brooklyn history.

“I don’t think it’s right,” one diner told the New York Daily News. “That restaurant was there when I was a little girl. It’s a landmark — it’s untouchable.”

Some, however, are welcoming Arby’s with open arms.

“Let’s face it, as home to Brennan & Carr’s and Roll ‘n Roaster, Brooklyn knows a good roast beef sandwich when they bite into it,” said Borough President Marty Markowitz. “So I am thrilled to welcome Arby’s to the historic Gage and Tollner building, offering visitors to Downtown Brooklyn another “meaty” choice when it comes to satisfying their hunger.”

“If you think tough economic times have slowed the tide of new business in Brooklyn, I say horseradish! Hello Arby’s!” he said.

Chera said that his Arby’s franchise will begin hiring at the Gage and Tollner site in the next few weeks.


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