Ex-Dominatrix Learns New Tricks to Open Red Hook Restaurant

By Nikhita Venugopal on April 17, 2013 7:40am 

RED HOOK — Before Erin Norris planned to open a restaurant, she worked in a very different type of service industry.

A former dominatrix with a SoHo dungeon, Norris hung up her S&M gear more than 10 years ago. She's now working to open Grindhaus, her soon-to-be Red Hook restaurant.

“The rock-and-roll lifestyle was probably going to kill me if I kept it up,” said Norris, who has also been a band manager and a music publicist. "I've been involved in every vice. But food is what I really come back to." 

Her work as a dominatrix has prepared her for "challenging" situations — though running her own business has different logistical problems than safely hanging a 300-pound man from a ceiling, she said.

Since 2008, when Norris started construction on the space at 275 Van Brunt St., she has been working toward her dream of running an affordable eatery where people can connect over food, beer and wine.

But Hurricane Sandy completely damaged the restaurant last year, causing about $28,000 in damage to outlets, walls, the basement and equipment, including ovens, refrigerators and air-conditioning systems.

If the storm hadn't come along, the restaurant would have been open by now, Norris said.

“There’s blood, sweat and tears all over this joint. It was pretty intense,” said Norris, who currently works at Littleneck, another Red Hook eatery.

Like many others, Norris turned to Kickstarter, where she hopes to raise $17,000. After launching her project last month, she is currently at $8,885 and will continue fundraising through May 4.

Even before Sandy ravaged Grindhaus, the Van Brunt Street restaurant required extensive renovations, which ate through much of the budget, said Norris, whose parents sold their Long Island home to fund her dream.

In the wake of the storm, Norris said she wasn’t eligible for most disaster aid and loans since her restaurant hadn’t yet opened. While she received some funding from the U.S. Small Business Administration, as well as assistance from the South Brooklyn Industrial Development Corporation, it wasn’t enough to cover the cost of renovations after the storm.

While in construction mode, the restaurateur is still working out her menu, she said. When people ask her what kind of restaurant Grindhaus will be, Norris answers “one that serves food."

She's hoping for an eclectic, flexible menu, even including elements of other food cultures from Turkish to Indian to Russian. She's still looking for a chef to help her create the menu.

Norris hopes to open the space on her birthday, June 12, and join Red Hook's thriving restaurant scene.

"There's always room for more," she said.

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