CONCOURSE — Bronxites fed up with the borough's reputation as the unhealthiest part of the city wanted to see healthier food options start coming to the borough.
The two fast food joints have a 10-year agreement to move into the Concourse Plaza shopping center, a decision that has upset locals who were hoping to see the neighborhood move beyond fast food.
"Oh, good lord, that’s so painful," said Yosara Trujillo, who runs a dance and yoga studio located nearby the plaza. "We’ve never not had fried chicken. How is this helpful? There was already a Burger King here."
The Burger King right by Yankee Stadium recently closed to make way for Palombo, an Italian pastry and coffee shop that should open in early May, and Trujillo expressed disappointment that it now seemed like the restaurant was just moving a few blocks over.
The Feil Organization, owner and manager of Concourse Plaza, described the eateries as a great match for the neighborhood.
“This area is, pun intended, starved for good food options,” The Feil Organization's director of leasing Nicholas Forelli said. “Burger King and Popeyes are a perfect fit to meet the needs of those working at and visiting the Bronx County Courthouses across the street, Yankee Stadium up the block and the 210,000 people living within one mile of the center.”
Jose Rodriguez, district manager of Bronx Community Board 4, took offense to the company’s claim that Popeyes and Burger King represented “good food options” for the neighborhood.
“I think it’s a shame,” he said, “and I think it’s sad on behalf of the Feil Organization to think that those are the food options that should be available to this community.”
Community Board 4 member John Howard Algarin maintained that the neighborhood had plenty of fast food joints already and said he would have preferred a restaurant that was slightly more upscale, such as Panera Bread or Chipotle.
“We do want some healthier options than more fried chicken and more fries and burgers,” he said, “but the private market industry can set itself up where it wants.”
Describing Burger King and Popeyes as a good fit for the neighborhood was only meant as a general comment on the need for people to have a place to eat in Concourse Plaza, according to Forelli.
“It was that the area needs food,” he said. “I think there’s a lack of restaurants in the area.”
The fast food restaurants are coming in the midst of a renovation of the plaza that the Feil Organization has been working on for about a year and expects to be done with by the end of the month.
“The façade was dated,” Forelli said, “so we upgraded everything from the storefronts to the steel at the movie theater entrance.”
The plaza still has two 2,600-square-foot vacancies and one 24,000-square-foot vacancy left. The Feil Organization is not sure what will fill these slots, but Forelli said they were open to bringing a healthy eating option into the space.
"We’ve marketed it to basically every health food store," he said.
Representatives from Burger King and Popeyes did not respond to requests for comment.
The Bronx had a childhood obesity rate of 23.5 percent as of 2010, the highest in the city, and it also had the highest rate of short-term diabetes hospitalizations as of 2013, according to the New York State Health Department.
Cary Goodman, executive director of the 161st Street Business Improvement District, agreed with the Feil Organization that neighborhood residents need good food options, but he did not consider Burger King and Popeyes to be restaurants that would fill this void.
“What they’re not starved for are excessively sweet and high caloric fast foods,” he said. “They’re starved for quality nutritious alternatives, and hopefully the next announcements will be things like juice bars and salad emporia.”