By Jeff Mays
HARLEM — Visitors to soul food restaurant The Pink Tea Cup in Greenwich Village kept asking owner Lawrence Page when he was going to open an outpost in Harlem.
"A lot of people have been demanding I come to Harlem," said Page, 31, who lives in the neighborhood. "They said they were tired of coming all the way downtown for our soul food."
Page revived the legendary Village restaurant, that was once frequented by celebrities like Bill Cosby and Susan Sarandon, after it closed in Jan. 2010.
When he found the perfect space on Lenox Avenue and West 120th Street earlier this year, Page snapped it up and gave the Harlem outpost a new name: The Pink Heifer.
Page's intentions were good; he intended to partner with Heifer International, an international non-profit organization that battles hunger and poverty by giving livestock to people in developing countries.
Harlem residents, however, weren't impressed. Heifer is often used as a derogatory slang term for a woman.
"It was 700 against, 300 for," Page said of an informal survey he took. "The community suggested I rethink the name. There's a fine line with that name in the black community, so I had to listen," added Page, who is African-American.
Ultimately, he decided to return to the restaurant's original name.
Community Board 10 2nd Vice-Chair Stephane Howze thinks Page made the right decision.
"The issue was complicated because he had good intentions. But he did the right thing by getting the community's voice, because it's now a non-issue," Howze said. "Besides, the name Pink Tea Cup is well known so why not bring it to Harlem?"
The excitement about the new restaurant was palpable when Page went before Community Board 10 to get his liquor license.
"Will it be the same exact menu, the collard greens and the lemonade ice tea mix?" asked one excited woman who was obviously familiar with the restaurant's fare.
"We are so proud of you, so happy to see a young black man making it," said another as audience members broke out into an impromptu round of applause.
Located downtown at 42 Grove Street for 55 years, the Pink Tea Cup closed in January last year after being driven out by a rent increase. The restaurant was so beloved that a group of regulars started a Facebook page with the goal of raising $100,000 to try and save the eatery.
Page, a film producer and restaurateur who previously owned J'ador French Bakery in the Flatiron and also purchased the Actor's Playhouse, declined to accept any cash but purchased the name from the former owner for $400,000 and moved the restaurant to a larger location at 88 Seventh Avenue South, at the corner of Bleeker Street.
"A lot of the customers that patronized the old restaurant were no longer around. I had to redo it and give it a face lift," said Page.
He brought back a former chef and consulted with the former owner to include many of the Pink Tea Cup's old touches, while doing things like making the space a little more upscale and offering vegetarian options on the menu.
Page said he plans to do the same thing with the Harlem location, which is expected to open in September or October. The new restaurant is located across the street from Ristorante Settepani, one of the early restaurant pioneers on Lenox Avenue.
In addition to 29 tables, Page said he plans a lounge upstairs where people can hang out with their laptops during the day and stay to relax in the evening. He has a 10-year lease on the space.
The restaurant will have traditional soul food offerings like grits and salmon croquettes, along with specialty burgers. Most items will be priced under $20, in the $13 to $15 range, Page said.
Page said he considered several locations around Harlem, but went with Lenox Avenue over Frederick Douglass Boulevard, which has seen a string of new restaurants over the last year.
Lenox Avenue has also seen recent growth. Marcus Samuelson's Red Rooster opened between West 125th and West 126th streets, near soul food mainstay Sylvia's and French restaurant Chez Luciene's.
Les Ambassades recently opened a buffet on the same avenue between West 126th and 127th streets. Ristorante Settepani co-owner Leah Abraham is opening Settepani Brick Oven a block away at West 119th and Lenox Avenue.
"Lenox has a more upscale appeal. There's not a glut of restaurants over here," said Page.
That's why Page says the Pink Tea Cup will not be his last Harlem venture. He says he's currently in negotiations for a space on Lenox Avenue below West 120th to open a Moroccan-themed bar.
"I want to help take Lenox Avenue to the next level," Page said.