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Developer Gobbles Up UES Block and Kicks Out Restaurants

 Three restaurants on Second Avenue between 80th and 81st street will close in the next two weeks.
Restaurants Closing on Second Avenue Block
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UPPER EAST SIDE — A developer is clearing out most of an Upper East Side block, forcing several longtime restaurants to close by the end of July.

Johnny Foxes at 1546 Second Ave. shut down on Sunday, and next to go will be the neighboring Chinese eatery Nancy Lee’s Pig Heaven and Mexican restaurant Cascabel Taqueria.

All three restaurants are on Second Avenue between East 80th and 81st streets, where Icon Realty Management has spent $44.8 million buying six buildings in the past seven years, public records show. Icon has also snapped up air rights from another building on the block.

Neighbors, patrons and restaurant managers said they heard five of the buildings — which are already nearly empty and will be fully vacant by Aug. 1 — will be demolished and replaced by a high-rise.

“The landlord said we had to move because they were tearing down the building,” said 23-year-old Gizem Ozen, whose family runs Agora Turkish. The restaurant, which was located on the corner of 80th Street and Second Avenue for two and 1/2 years, was forced to move out earlier this year.

Icon Realty Management, which owns more than 1,800 apartment units throughout the city, has not filed any demolition or construction permits for the block, according to Department of Buildings records.

But the company recently paid $3 million to buy air rights from an adjacent building at 1558 Second Ave., records show.

“They're going to build a high-rise — I've seen the renderings,” said Neal Geffner, who owns 1558 Second Ave. and sold the air rights to Icon. He declined to say how many square feet of air rights were sold.

Icon did not respond to requests for comment.

Residential tenants in the Icon-owned buildings have already moved out, locals said, and the restaurants were told over the past year that their leases would not be renewed.

Nancy Lee, owner of Nancy Lee's Pig Heaven, said she has been on a month-to-month lease since February and must shut down by the end of July. 

"I feel very sad," said Lee, who started working at the 1540 Second Ave. restaurant as a hostess decades ago and became the owner and manager in 1984. "This is my whole life."

Lee, who said she hopes to relocate within the neighborhood, plans to host two goodbye parties for Nancy Lee's, one on Thursday and another on July 30. A $50 buffet dinner will be served along with wine, and there will be live music at next week's party.

One restaurant that won't have to look far for a new space is Cascabel Taqueria. The taco shop is now at the corner of 80th Street and Second Avenue and will move several doors down to 1556 Second Ave., the one Icon-owned building on the block that isn't being emptied.

Icon bought 1556 Second Ave. for $7 million in January and is currently renovating it, public records show.

“[Moving] was not our decision,” said Elizabeth Gaudreau, co-owner of Cascabel Taqueria. “But it’s New York — things move fast."