BEDFORD-STUYVESANT — Donna and Edwin Drakes were finally getting the hang of their new business when it went up in smoke.
The couple's restaurant, Brooklyn Beso, at 370 Lewis Ave., had a rough start. Opening a new business isn't easy, Donna Drakes said, and they had to work through the growing pains.
But the Bed-Stuy restaurant had begun to gain some traction after almost two years when it was damaged by a fire last year.
Early one October morning, the basement fire destroyed much of the Latin-themed eatery, causing about $10,000 in damages that Drakes said the insurance company refuses to pay for and pushing back renewal of a liquor license.
But after more than four months, Brooklyn Beso is finally back.
"It has been a long journey," said Drakes, 38. "We want to be better the second time around."
Brooklyn Beso celebrated its grand reopening on Friday with a new focus on better service — and a desperate need for it to be successful after spending thousands of dollars on repairs.
The Drakes bought Brooklyn Beso in January 2012 as a way to combine both of their dreams. Edwin Drakes wanted to open a restaurant and his wife aspired to own property. When the opportunity arose to buy a building with a storefront, the two took it as a sign.
Unfortunately for them, it didn't go quite as well as planned. With no restaurant training, customer service suffered, Drakes said — an issue reflected on the review site Yelp which features decidedly mixed reviews.
"It really pains me to give this place a two," read one review. "It has great potential, a nice atmosphere, cool [people], good music, [tasty] food, but the service and customer service was GOD AWFUL."
Responses on the site appear to show the owners taking responsibility, and promising better service. But then October came around.
On Oct. 8, around 3 a.m., an employe who was closing up the restaurant discarded a lit cigarette in the employee break room and left, according to Donna Drakes. The resulting fire destroyed their ice machine and walk-in box, melted their blenders and racked up thousands of dollars in construction bills.
Even worse, after the FDNY reviewed camera footage and found the fire was due to negligence, the insurance company refused to pay anything.
And after focusing their time on repairing their restaurant, the two let their liquor license lapse and had to apply for a new one while the business sat unused.
"It was an investment just sitting," Donna Drakes said.
Now that the restaurant is back up and running, Drakes said she and her husband have learned from their mistakes and are focusing on fixing the customer service issues that plagued the restaurant the first time around.
Brooklyn Beso will still focus on small tapas-style dishes, and their more popular items are still on the menu, crafted by chef Richard McDuffie, formerly of Latin-inspired restaurant Cielo in Clinton Hill.
McDuffie's menu includes ginger soy, guava barbecue and jerk sauce wings, empanadas and plantain rellenos stuffed with bacalhau.
The team will expand to a full menu soon, and anticipates being in the community for a long time, Drakes said.
"I feel hopeful about business getting better, I feel hopeful about this community, with all the changes happening," Drakes said. "Beso is here to stay."