By Patrick Hedlund
DNAinfo News Editor
EAST VILLAGE — A new food vendor may open inside a busy neighborhood park if the current eatery there decides to close in the restaurant-rich neighborhood.
Veselka — the longtime Second Avenue Ukrainian restaurant that has operated a separate food stand inside First Park at the corner of East First Street and First Avenue for the past five years — could opt out of the space as it prepares to open a new restaurant a block-and-a-half away in the coming months, said general manager Jason Birchard.
The city Parks Department put out a request last week for vendor proposals to bid on the space, and Birchard said the Veselka team was currently considering whether to re-bid or vacate when its contract comes up in June.
"We have a lot on our plates right now," he said of the restaurant's newest venture at 9 E. First St., just down the street from the park kiosk.
"We like that location [in the park], we would love to hold onto it," Birchard added. "It's an inner-circle debate right now."
Despite Veselka's final decision — which Birchard said was based primarily on cost issues and a Parks Department bathroom policy that required the vendor to either construct a new restroom for employees or arrange to use nearby facilities — the space would likely still court some high-profile restaurants to the busy intersection.
One operator that is rumored to have designs on the kiosk is Shake Shack — restaurateur Danny Meyer's popular burger chain that already runs a highly successful outdoor location in Madison Square Park.
However, a spokeswoman for Shake Shack declined to say whether the eatery would bid on the space, after opening Manhattan locations in Times Square and the Upper East Side over the summer.
"As you may be aware, we have openly expressed our intention to bring Shake Shack to compelling sites in great neighborhoods," said Theresa Mullen, a spokeswoman for Meyer's Union Square Hospitality Group.
"As such, rumors often circulate about potential openings. We have decided not to comment on any of these rumors until we have something concrete to share."
Shake Shack tried and ultimately failed to open a new restaurant in Nolita a year ago after encountering fierce resistance from neighbors, and now plans to debut its next branch in Battery Park City.
But a possible attempt to bring Shake Shack to the East Village could also face similar opposition, officials said.
Community Board 3 has long advocated for more retail diversity in the neighborhood, warning that ever-escalating rents threaten to rid the community of small businesses.
"Our rents keep going up in this area, property taxes keep going up, and small businesses are having a very difficult time," said Community Board 3 District Manager Susan Stetzer, noting that marquee names such as Shake Shack would provide even more competition.
"We need to protect our local businesses."
The Parks Department would not comment on the volume or type of operators submitting bids, noting that the March 4 deadline for submissions was still a way off.
The request for proposals stipulates that the vendor should be affordable, and that the city would look more favorably on operators that "incorporate ethnically diverse and/or healthy food choices, such as salads, fresh fruit, yogurt, nuts, granola bars, protein bars, bottled water, juices, smoothies, etc."
The Parks Department would also favor proposals "that show a commitment to cooperate with and support park administrators, park users, and the community," according to the request for proposals.
While Veselka has proven to be a welcome neighbor at the park, Stetzer said, Shake Shack may not enjoy the same reputation.
"I cannot imagine the Parks Department [approving] that," she added.