The Asian fusion restaurant celebrated its two-year anniversary on May 2, said co-owner Amir Chayon, attributing the eatery's success to the uniqueness of the cuisine in the area and a bond with the community.
Chayon, who has lived in the neighborhood for roughly six years and previously worked at the Bruckner Bar and Grill, opened Ceetay after recognizing that the Mott Haven community had a need for either a nice coffee shop or a sushi restaurant.
"I did the math," he said, "and to open a coffee shop, I'll have to sell so much coffee to make a living and less sushi, so we went with the sushi."
Ceetay is located in the 40th Precinct, and Chayon highlighted the area's decreasing crime rate as a factor that made it more amenable to businesses.
Murders have gone down by 60 percent, shooting incidents have gone down by 26.3 percent and robberies have gone down by 6.4 percent since that time.
"The situation improved dramatically in terms of crime in this neighborhood," he said. "Finally, people feel like they can come up here, be safe, live here and open businesses around here."
Persuading people to come check the eatery was difficult at first.
"They're all over us. A Jew owning a sushi bar in the South Bronx cannot be good," said Chayon, who is originally from Israel. "And two years later, this is considered one of the best sushi places in New York City."
Some 70 percent of his patrons come from The Bronx. The rest hail from Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens and New Jersey. The eatery keeps prices low with sushi costing $2-5.
John Saegaert, an administrator for the Belmont Eye Center, stopped by Ceetay for food with his family on June 16 and said he was surprised to find out about a sushi restaurant in the South Bronx, but he was very complimentary about everything from the menu to the service to the ambience.
"This is my favorite restaurant in this area," he said.
Evi Siskos, 25, who was at the eatery earlier that day, was a Ceetay fan as well, especially of the brown rice.
"Sometimes it's hard to find brown rice at sushi restaurants," she said.
The restaurant benefits from its close proximity to the fish market at Hunts Point, where Chayon sends someone about three to five times a week.
Chayon credits several factors for the restaurant’s success, including the amount of locals who already knew him from his time at the Bruckner Bar and Grill, the uniqueness of the establishment in Mott Haven and the active role that Ceetay plays in the neighborhood.
After surviving its first year, for instance, the restaurant hosted a party for the neighborhood.
“We wanted to thank the neighborhood for supporting us,” he said. “It was a great party. We had, like, 100 people; we had a DJ outside; people really loved it.”
However, operating the business is not without its challenges. Despite the lower crime rate, for instance, Chayon said that many people are still afraid to come up and visit Ceetay because of its location.
"I hope it will grow," he said. "I hope more people will come in, and then that will mean I will open a coffee shop and a pizza shop and other stuff."
Despite the difficulties, he remained confident that the South Bronx was a good place to be.
"It is a diamond," he said, "and right now people are starting to break the stones around it and start[ing] to see how much it shines and how much money it can make."