Friday, July 30, 2010

☞ READ: Gospel Uptown Files for Bankruptcy

After being open only a little over a year, Crain's now reports that Gospel Uptown at ACP/7th Avenue (close to the corner of 126th Street) has filed for bankruptcy. The soul fusion restaurant also featured live jazz and was the newest business to arrive at the historic Alhambra Theatre building. More recently, the name of the establishment changed to the Uptown Grand. Read more details in the Crain's article (Harlem eatery praying for miracle after bankruptcy): LINK. Read more about the history of the Alhambra Theatre in our past post: LINK. Photo by Ulysses


  1. AmyRuth's has a bankruptcy history (that's gotta be poor management) so perhaps Uptown Gospel can pull it out.

    Sounds as though this place would have been a magnet for the downtown crowd. Wonder what went wrong. If it can hold on until one of the hotels opens it should be ok, no?

  2. Not sure, but maybe it is to do with the outrageous prices. Obviously going for the tourist market, but maybe half of them don't even know it is there. Hope they get through it though.

  3. So once again--poor management, I.e. Unrealistic prices and lack of public relations push.

    One would think they would make sure every hotel concierge in town knew about them.

  4. Some people are hard headed and the guy behind this effort thought and thinks he's a genius because he has a Harvard JD. I and some others that were invited to invest.....well we laughed at the model. That location for food retail can only support a major chain not reliant on alcohol sales to profit (ihop, olive garden, applebee's, red lobster etc.)

    This is one of those cases of a egomaniac not respecting the restaurant profession, assuming he knows the market, Harlem, etc. and playing with OTHER PEOPLE'S MONEY. He brands himself as a 1) Minister, 2) attorney, 3) developer, and 4) playwright. I am not kidding here and he's been branding himself "restaurateur" to all of this as well.

    Joe H, the guy behind Gospel simply did not know what he was's that simple. Kind of like how everybody thinks they can open a B&B or be a real estate developer and flourish? Same thing.

  5. This space would work well as a Dallas BBQ, a good fit for Harlem.

  6. Frankly, passing by this place I never knew what it was - I assumed it was some sort of church affiliated ballroom or something.

    It must be hard for restaurateurs to determine who the target market is in Harlem - there is a large poor community without much disposable income, there is the tourist trade looking for the "Harlem experience", and there is a sizable middle class with disposable income. It would be hard to appeal to all three groups of diners at the same time, although some manage to do it.

  7. I’m sorry to hear this. I’ve been a supporter of the place from the beginning. I thought and still think it’s a boon to the neighborhood.

    That said, there have been severe missteps.

    It was probably a bad idea to open a Gospel themed restaurant. Folks want to party. The place is now named the Uptown Grand.
    If they wanted inspiration they’d go to church (which is still free last time I checked). When I think of free spenders church folks are not the first people who come to my mind. But they must have wanted and older more docile crowd. If Aloft ever gets off the ground they had better make friends with the concierges there. That the only way they’ll get a steady stream of tourists since Sylvia’s has got the tour buses stopping directly in front of her place.

    Chef Kenneth Collins no longer works there. I don’t think his menu what what folks around here wanted. They expected more traditional soul food stuff. I loved it but I was probably int the minority. They also had no happy hour. This was asking for closure. They have now begun to have an after work thing on Wednesdays with a 6-9 Happy Hour. NOW I know why. They are scared.

    I also get the impression that their entertainment director took them for a ride. If you are going to charge a 20 dollar cover you have better have Blue Note caliber talent. They don’t even get the same kinds of acts that Shrine or Billie’s Black gets and that’s audience they should have been targeting.

    I hope the can make it. But if the place does go under I hope it becomes a club/lounge type place because that would be a license to print money around here especially if the owners of such a place had the sense to make it Gay-friendly.

  8. I just think it was too expensive. I remember seeing the brunch special on the menu and it was like $25 or $30.

  9. (1) Chris is to do with the outrageous prices.
    (2)Sanou's mum said...Unrealistic prices

    Do you two care to give examples supporting your opinions because frankly I don't believe either of you know what you're talking about, you're just aimlessly blog ranting.

    Ever actually been to Gospel? After work I've been there and gotten a burger, $11, high quality angus beef. I've also gone to Applebee's down the street and gotten a burger, where they start at $12.49 and go up, NOT Angus Beef either yet Applebee's stays packed. When I go to Dinosaur the same burger meal is $10 (and much smaller than the Gospel burger with lesser quality beef).

    Here we have 2 people on a Blog criticizing and characterizing Gospel's "outrageous prices", and "Unrealistic prices", yet not framing their opinions lending any measure of credence to their voice.

    It just irks and annoys me to see people like this come on blogs, declare Harlem prices (be it Condos or Menus) as "outrageous" and "unrealistic", entirely unsupported with examples, yet they rant and complain. I dine out in Harlem 7 days a week. Gospel had and has problems, but prices are not one of them. It's simply not true, accurate, or credible to call their prices "outrageous" and "unrealistic". Go to their website, look at their menu overall, compare apples to apples and you'll see this is the case.

  10. Someone I know said he was waiting for Gospel's inevitable failure because it is a great location for a restaurant with a better business plan that targeted a larger market.

    The gospel theme could have worked but they failed to make the restaurant appear welcoming just like the restaurant that was there previously. I didn't even have a problem with the pricing and I thought the food was pretty good. The whole experience was just too dark and tight in the wrong way.

    Someone should have put some thought into side-walk seating with an awning like Silvia's effort. It could have been a good alternative to Silvia's seemingly over-crowded experience.

    A real steak house - like DelFrisco's or Peter Luger's (Manhattan) would kill with the new harlem crowd, tourists, business types, future hotel occupants, etc. We don't need another Soul Food joint.

    Bottom line is that 75% of restaurant's fail in the first two years - this one didn't have a chance.

  11. I wouldn’t call there brunch expensive, poor quality and odd choices yes.3 course brunchis weird but not terribly expensive. Brunch at Sylvia’s or Chez Lucienne is similar priced. To me Sylvia’s is proof that this place could have worked. Great concept terrible execution. They also should have only been charging the premium on the weekend. Monday-Friday prices should have been under $20 or it should have been closed. I also think fusion needs to be superb or not done at all. They had 2 or 3 good dishes and the rest was frozen. Im sure there rent was really high too. When I had brunch there few weeks back we were the only table in the place. If done right this place could have been a gold mine.

  12. Uh, Balanced--they just filed Chapter 11.

    I don't know from over-priced burgers. I'm a vegetarian. And, um, oh yes. Too poor to eat out.

    Have a blessed day.

  13. Corey, who eats three course brunches in Manhattan? When I lived on the UES I never saw them. $10-15 plates w/ a drink were typical and those places were packed. Sylvia's does well b/c the tourists love it and the buses drop them off right around there. This place was never going to work by targeting the tourist groups. Offer up some cheaper, single course fare. Not everybody wants to go all out for brunch.

  14. Chris actually I do 3 course brunches a lot around the UES and the UWS. And there for a good brunch it runs up to $35. these places are consistently crowded.

    The concept can work but you have to make a name for yourself first and then slowly add in the brunch mix once you have a clientele looking for it.

    It is very hard for a restaurant without any other restaurants in a group having a similar style to open and go all out with a lunch, dinner and brunch menu.

    An example of the brunch that works would be David Burke. All his restaurants have brunch and since people know that style they will go test it out. Another UES brunch I got to is at Park Avenue (the one that changes names with the seasons), they are also always crowded and I got 2-3 times a year.

    With the influx of higher earners into Harlem, the restaurant model is not doomed to fail. However, you need to find ways to bring people in with specials in the beginnign to to say look at what we got, then you can slowly add other things and bring your prices back up.

    But to say it will never work, is incorrect.

  15. I will say GU's prices are no worse than Lenox Lounge or Slyvia's for that matter.

    But they for whatever reason, they could never get the license for outdoor dining that they said they were going to and without that you aren't going to get a lunch/brunch crowd.

    They actually had a reasonable lunch special last summer (sandwich, soup, salad for around 10 bucks) but nobody knew about it. Harlem BBQ's puts a flyer guy on every other block. They should have done the same.

  16. Mike, fair enough, but those are two really high end restaurants. Park Ave is great btw. I just feel like most people in Harlem taking a casual stroll looking for a brunch spot would keep walking when they see the only option available is a three course meal upwards of 30 bucks. You're talking about high, high earners. Unless you are seriously rolling in dough, this is still a really cautious time for most people.

  17. If the market cannot afford the prices – the business will fail! The prices are based on Harlem’s potential, not the status quo. This is a persistent problem with Harlem eateries i.e. Ginger (one of my favorites), and Pier 2110 for example. A sound business plan includes comprehensive market research. With that said, the restaurant business in NYC is brutal.

  18. Chris I think a lot of time people get lost on what they spend and think that $20 pp to $30 pp is a lot, but once you realize what you are getting and then compare to buying things a la carte, you are already spending probably close to $20. Plus if the food quality is better it is worth it.

    Also when done correctly you are not just pulling in people from the neighborhood. It is all about name recognition. This is why i said the first step before worrying about brunch is getting people to rave about your food.

    The fact is i travel all over the city to eat. right now prior to the move next month i live in washington heights. I go all the way down to 21st and 9th avenue for the crepe place that we really like.

    point is people will come to you especially if there is parking and subway access.

    Think about dinosaur bbq, i think it is great and eat there many times during the year or grab takeout. it is by no means a convenient location and you have to know that it is there. However this place is packed all the time.

    I think given time, and i mean years, these types of restaurants will not only survive but thrive in certain areas of harlem

  19. One big issue was that no one knew that the place even existed. The place was nondescript and if you passed by it you probably wouldn't be able to tell what type of establishment it was.

  20. I agree that 3 course brunches are crazy. I was simply stating that for the amount of food it is not an unrealistic price. It was never meant to be an everyday quick bite place. Having eaten there I would say the food was terrible. High-end cafeteria at best. They tried to cover it up with a bunch of flash. Beyond that they couldn't even get people in there. They had a small stand outside with a cheap paper menu. This was supposed to be a high class place where you get dressed up and go for the experience. If the want to save the place they will focus more on the music and the drinks. They could be the uptown Feinstein’s or Carlyle. When this place opened it had allot of good press. The music was supposed to be amazing but there was never any music.

  21. I just think that they were priced for the middle class residents of Harlem, but not targeted or directed to us. I eat at Chez Lucienne, Settepani, Native, most of the new places on FDB, Amy Ruths, etc on a fairly regular basis. I even take my kids to that bowling alley right next store to this place, but i just didnt see why i would go to a Gospel themed restaurant. Couldnt be more out of my interest area. I take out of towners looking for the real harlem gospel to church with me. So we're not then hitting up the gospel restaurant after church. And why would my wife and i go there on a thursday night when the babysitters takin home $15 an hour? I think there are enough tourists to support the Sylvias and Amy Ruths, but not an unknown unproven spot like this. So if it's not for us, and it's not for the tourists...who's eatin here? Having said that, a Dallas BBQ would do amazing in this spot. But i believe we all said the same thing on Harlem Fur three years ago when Peir whatever it was closed down. I guess BBQ dont want us.

  22. @ Chad "A real steak house - like DelFrisco's or Peter Luger's (Manhattan) would kill with the new harlem crowd, tourists, business types, future hotel occupants, etc. We don't need another Soul Food joint."

    I know Ricardo's Steakhouse (excellent food and service) is expanding their existing location over on 2nd Ave and 110th Street. If they ever wanted to open a second location, GU would be a great spot.

    I also second the suggestion about opening a BBQ's. I thought they would've been perfect for the spot where Chuck E. Cheese is currently located.

  23. Let's not forget Ruth Chris steakhouse. No, it certainly isn't cheap but definitely a place where enough people will find an occasion to splurge. And yes virtually any food establishment would be a suitable replacement of Chuck E. Cheese.

  24. I have walked by this place many times and never was really sure what it was. It's disappointing that there are so many bad businesspeople in Harlem.

    Hopefully they'll learn before it is too late. Lee Lee's seemed to be learning - things were a lot better the last time that I stopped by there. They had a special, and a counterwoman, and a business card with a website.

  25. I was sorry to hear this news, it's always a bad sign when the name of a place changes so soon after opening, I've heard it call three diffent names this past year. Beautiful space.

    I think that the location plays a part in its growth, that side of the street doesn't have a lot of foot traffic, I don't see how they are marketing this place. I use to get the e-mails when they were having entertainers etc. Haven't heard or gotten an e-mail in a while. Business need to start learning the art of marketing it is so vital to staying in business. Stores open and think foot traffic will bring me business. That is not always the case if you don't have a marketing strategic you are doomed to fail.

  26. They got rid of their executive chef, changed their menu offerings, slowed on marketing practices, suffered the upkeep and maintenance of the business, not being consistent or adhering to the stores hours of operations (If you say you're gonna be open on a monday from open on a monday from 5-close) and also acquired new investors and "management" who have no idea. FYI: A venture in Real Estate is nothing at all like running a restaurant/club, but I'm sure they are finding this out. (All in the name of "Restructuring"). That's when business really started to hurt.

    By the way the prices are not outrages as some have stated.

    They changed the name to Uptown Grand and tried to bring in a nightlife. Which was a smart idea. The 1st week did very well business-wise, but they advertised it as an "Upscale, bottle service lounge/club". The crowd was decent, not at all an upscale clientele. The bar was super-duper-uber-limited in it's selection. i.e. Hennessy, Grey Goose, Appletinis, Moet, Patron, a few other labels...but that was it. (No seriously). And...they were running out of what they offered, like... cranberry juice. Also, serving plastic cups and not trusting an adult to responsibly handle his own beer bottle but pouring it into a plastic cup for him as if he were a randomly destructive toddler, definitely does not have the sweet fragrance of an Upscale Harlem...but more like the Harlem Gutter O_o

    But if you don't have any experience or knowledge of the industry, or at least have an executive staff to run it for you, it will fail. I wish for someone with a masterful business plan to get a hold of this place. After a major cleanup ( because underneath it all, the place is beautiful and in an opportune area), this will be a gold-mine. ♥