HARLEM — A group of Harlem parents say Bad Horse Pizza restaurant sometimes refuses to seat groups that include multiple children.
April Patrick-Rabiu said she had a 5:30 p.m. reservation on Thursday at the restaurant on Frederick Douglass Boulevard and 120th Street, which serves thin crust, made-to-order pizza. Her party included several children.
When she called back to add on a couple more kids, the restaurant canceled the reservation.
"They basically said that they don't want a lot of kids or parties in their restaurant. I told them that it wasn't a party, that we were coming there after the movies, but they still said no," Patrick-Rabiu wrote in an email to the parent listserve Harlem4Kids.
"When I asked them how many was too many they wouldn't be specific, but just said that their customers didn't like it, kids are noisy and bothersome and that it was a definite 'no.'"
Patrick-Rabiu's email angered many Harlem4Kids parents and illustrates the growing pains of a gentrifying neighborhood that has gone from having numerous abandoned buildings and open-air drug dealing to pricey condos, hip restaurants and young families.
Bad Horse Pizza owner John Kandel said he does not have a policy against seating groups that include multiple children, but makes decisions on a case-by-case basis because of the difficulty he's had with children in the past.
"A few weeks ago a kid was standing on his chair with his shirt off and I didn't say anything," said Kandel, who opened the restaurant in 2011.
"Over time I've had to tailor what I do because some people let their kids treat my store really disrespectfully by standing on stuff, pulling on curtains and wiping bloody noses with my napkins."
In Patrick-Rabiu's case, Kandel said he canceled the reservation after finding out that their party of up to 12 people would contain as many as nine children. He makes no apologies for the decision, saying it's a question of economics.
Rent on the hot Frederick Douglass Boulevard strip averages between $80 to $100 per square foot and Kandel said large groups with children just don't provide him with the $30 to $40 per seat he needs to take in during peak times to keep the business afloat.
The restaurant currently opens at 5 p.m. seven days a week and closes at 10 p.m. Sunday through Wednesday and at 11 p.m. on Thursday through Saturday. Kandel said he turns the tables over twice on a good night.
"Having a group with kids at 5 p.m. is fine. I just can't have it during adult meal time. I have to pay the bills," he said.
He believes his adult customers are turned off when large groups of kids are in the restaurant at certain times.
"I felt it was affecting my business," he said. "I can't lose customers who spend $30 to $40."
Some parents expressed surprise at the incident, saying the restaurant, located on what has become known as Harlem's "restaurant row" because of the explosion of new eateries over the last few years, has been welcoming to kids in the past.
One parent on the Harlem4Kids listserv with 1- and 3-year-old children called Bad Horse Pizza "one of the most kid friendly places in the area."
But other parents said they were also turned away from Bad Horse Pizza because they had multiple kids in their party or were treated rudely while there with multiple kids.
One listserv parent said they were refused a reservation in November for three kids and eight adults and was shocked because the bill would have been substantial.
"It's a pizza spot not a cigar steakhouse so, honestly, I thought it was weird and sort of rude since people who have friends and family with kids tend to go for pizza and salads," wrote the parent. "Haven't been there since."
Another parent said the move was "incredibly stupid in this kid-filled neighborhood."
Others suggested a protest.
Nikoa Evans-Hendricks, president of business development group Harlem Park to Park, said she's not surprised by the dustup and sees it as part of the neighborhood's growth.
"Before, we didn't have a decent grocery store," said Evans-Hendricks, who is also mother to a 2-year-old. "We haven't had the luxury of getting to the next-level nuances of revitalization, which involves commercial development."
Parents are attracted to the number of parks in Harlem as well as lower real estate costs compared with downtown or the Upper West Side. Frederick Douglass Boulevard from 110th to 125th streets has been quick to develop restaurants, but lacks other services that families crave. But that is beginning to change.
Tribeca Pediatrics, known for moving to up and coming neighborhoods, acquired space at Frederick Douglass Boulevard and 114th street in what used to be a 99-cents store. When one child fitness business closed on St. Nicholas Avenue, another opened in its place.
"That's a huge deal because these businesses have done their research and realize there is a growing family market," said Evans-Hendricks.
"It's a hard balancing act," said Kandel. "I have to make money if they want to keep coming back to my place."
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