Restaurants of New York – Lido
Susannah Koteen and her (future) business partner stumbled upon an available restaurant space in Harlem and they got to talking about “what if,” although she currently worked in events and catering (she used to run Serena Bass‘ catering company). Susannah said, “It wasn’t that I necessarily was looking to open a restaurant. It’s that I could see that the neighborhood needed something like this. It seemed like a good idea at the time…like the right thing to do at the right time.”
On February 11, 2011, Susannah opened the doors to her modern Northern Italian-inspired restaurant, Lido, located at 2168 Frederick Douglass Boulevard. She named it after Lido de Venezia, the island known for Northern Italian cuisine (hello, seafood!) and for being a glamorous Hollywood hangout (The Venice Film Festival takes place here in September). Susannah’s environment not only imitates what Lido de Venezia stands for–think the smell of fresh spaghetti and veal meatballs with a glass of pinot grigio atop a dining table set at the sage green leather booth–but easily provides solace on a hot, busy day in Harlem. While I interviewed Susannah, a young woman watched the world go by at one of the high-top tables, situated at the front bay windows. Susannah is constantly at her restaurant, majority of the day for six days of the week and for brunch on Sundays, truly creating an ambience–of feeling a part of this community–in Harlem.
Yet, as Susannah admitted, opening a restaurant in New York has its challenges. She emphasized how it is almost every day that a new regulation must be abided. Susannah told me, “It seems to be pulled out of thin air. The other day, the DOT came in here and said that we have to have photo IDs for every single one of our bus-boys, who run out and make deliveries. So all of a sudden, there’s a new rule that they have to have an ID number, a photo ID. They were going to fine us $800 if we couldn’t come up with that.” Susannah decided, though, to put deliveries on hold until they can ensure that their bus-boys have these requirements. She explained that the health department comes up with a change to make all the time, such as the width of the sidewalk café. “If you’re an inch over, they can fine you. It’s crazy. They make it very hard to do business in this city,” told Susannah.
Susannah felt that despite all the challenges she faced, she kept going because she recognized that Harlem had a lot of residents, who had lived in this neighborhood for a long time, and there was not a wide range of amenities to choose from. “Living here, this was the restaurant I always wanted and this was a neighborhood that needed amenities,” said Susannah.
Serena, now Susannah’s executive chef, adds a modern twist to Northern Italian dishes. Susannah explained to me that Serena, who is “a character” and known to be a celebrity-status chef due to her James Beard award, and her culinary creations are greatly appreciated, such as the organic grilled kale salad, which is a top-selling dish, or the organic free-range chicken, marinated in olive oil, salt and pepper, garlic, rosemary and thyme for 24 hours, that is prepared “under a brick.” But who wouldn’t be appreciative of Susannah and Serena’s continuously delicious seasonally-prepared dishes and specials, using organic and local ingredients as much as they possibly can? Susannah told me, “Somebody stopped in today to tell me that they were here last night and their food was so exceptional.” She continued, “It’s wonderful to know that people in New York have a lot of choices and very discerning palettes, so people really appreciate the food and the service.”
Thanks to all the growth that’s been happening to Harlem, Susannah referenced all the new condominium buildings that bring about young families as a catalyst, Lido receives a diverse clientele. Susannah said, “That’s the nice part about this neighborhood. You get everybody here, so you meet really interesting people. The nice thing about being in this location is it’s very ‘neighborhood-y’ and we get a lot of regulars. Some have been coming in since the first day.”
Susannah began to tell me about how two of her regulars, an engaged couple, came to Susannah because they wanted to have their wedding reception, for a guest list of 20 people, at Lido. “It’s really great that somebody wanted to have such a special day here. Things like that are awesome,” said Susannah. Yet Susannah’s constant awareness to get to know her customers, and remember them, results in the above to happen. “We try to have a very neighborhood feel. I mean whether you’re from the neighborhood or not, we try to have a very comfortable and professional feel. That’s what we strive for here,” said Susannah.
Susannah’s presence and involvement at her own restaurant echoes her presence and involvement in the Harlem community since 1998. First of all, she lives right down the street from Lido and is on the board of her condominium building. Then, she is a member of Harlem Park-to-Park and is the President of Frederick Douglass Boulevard Alliance (FDBA), which ultimately works toward improving the quality of life for Harlem residents and Frederick Douglass Boulevard, otherwise known as Harlem’s Gateway and Restaurant Row. The FDBA started to hold pub crawls on 8th Avenue and Lenox Avenue to produce a definitive community feeling, and it got the local businesses to sponsor recycling bins along 8th Avenue. “We’re trying to make sure the community is getting better,” said Susannah.
She hopes that Lido can continue to grow and keep that constant pattern of regulars for the sake of this neighborhood, her neighborhood of 15 years. “It’s a really good place to live. It’s staying diverse and people, I think, seem to get along really well,” stated Susannah. When I asked Susannah if she had any advice for aspiring small business owners, she replied upon smiling, “You should only do it if you’re really going to enjoy it.”
Photos By: Melissa Kirschenheiter