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Harlem Soul Food Restaurant Expanding to Lower East Side

By Gustavo Solis | July 29, 2015 6:17pm
 A small restaurant on First Avenue has become an extension of people's kitchens. 
SpaHa Soul
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EAST HARLEM — The chef of a local restaurant known for making his guests feel like family is opening up a second home on the Lower East Side.

The new restaurant, at 167 Rivington St., will be called "SpaHa Soul (too) 2" and it will have the same home-cooked soul food that is served on First Avenue, chef and owner Artist Thornton said.

The second SpaHa Soul will be slightly bigger than the four-table 465-square foot location in East Harlem. But not by much, the LES location has 550-square feet.

“I think my niche is going to be small restaurants,” Thornton said. “It’s not about flipping tables, it’s about having guests come back.”

Thornton made SpaHa with his own two hands. He installed the floor, painted the walls, and renovated the shell that was left behind by the old tenant at 2270 First Ave. Once it opened, he was host, waiter, busser, chef, delivery man, accountant, manager, and owner.

The model-turned-chef charmed guests by speaking with every customer about what tastes they prefer and creating something individualized for their preferences.

“He’s been very good to me because there are times where I’ve asked him to lower the salt and the sugar,” said Laurena Torres, who lives near Pleasant Avenue. “I’m absolutely ecstatic for him and wish him great success.”

To help with the expansion, Thornton has hired four staff members — two for East Harlem and two for the Lower East Side. Although he has help with the kitchen, he still plans to renovate the new space himself and has given himself a one-month timeline.

“It’s part of the process,” he said. “My deadline is 30 days, I did this one in two months.”

The food will be similar in both places, Thornton will still get fresh ingredients from the neighborhood and meat from a local butcher in East Harlem. He will buy in El Barrio and take it to the Lower East Side.

The major changes will be the hours. SpaHa (too) 2 will be open for lunch, dinner, and late night. Thornton also plans to have a full liquor license.

Expanding has been Thonrton’s plan since opening SpaHa in September 2013. Before moving to New York he ran four restaurants in Mexico City.

So far people have been very supportive of the expansion, Thornton said. He has received congratulatory messages from people in South Africa, Mexico City, and California.

“People here have said they are excited because they work downtown so they’ll be able to come for lunch,” he said. 

The move downtown seems to be contrary to the recent trend of downtown restaurateurs opening locations uptown, Thornton said. 

He wants to show the Harlem food can thrive in a neighborhood with an established restaurant scene. 

“I think a lot of people don’t look at Harlem as a place that has quality food and a place that has quality chefs and cooks,” Thornton said.