PORT MORRIS — A popular Dominican and Puerto Rican restaurant in the South Bronx was evicted on Friday, embodying many of the fears that residents have about the impact of gentrification on their neighborhood.
Calientito, at 141 Lincoln Ave., was kicked out for nonpayment of rent.
But co-owner Eva Diaz said he had been withholding rent because the landlord has been undermining the business and leaving them unable to make their payments.
"The problem is not that we don't have customers to sell [to]," she said. "The problem is he's been sabotaging the business so much that I don't have the money to pay him."
Diaz said her landlord Frank Torres has done several things to hurt the restaurant, including shutting off its water for three weeks and not fixing a leak that has made one of the tables unusable.
Torres declined to comment for this article.
Calientito opened in 2013, and Diaz has made several improvements to the building since then, according to her lawyer Damien Carter.
Carter argued that Torres was now trying to push out the restaurant so he can sell the building for a huge profit.
"They actually turned it, or transformed it, into a completely rehabilitated building, which would increase the value," he said, "so he probably could sell it for $500,000 more than he could have before the renovations."
Friday Diaz and Carter were in the process of trying to get a court order that would let Calientito back in the restaurant.
The restaurant's eviction comes at a time when fears of gentrification and displacement in the South Bronx are skyrocketing thanks in part to proposed zoning changes by the city and a new residential and retail complex that developers are planning to build right by Calientito.
Bronxites had been planning a Day of Solidarity in Calientito on Nov. 14 from 6 p.m. until midnight, with a flyer for the event referring to the embattled restaurant as "the first victim of gentrification in Port Morris."
Diaz said she hoped to get back inside the restaurant in time for the event but planned to try holding it somewhere regardless, such as the nearby Mott Haven Bar and Grill.
"Depending on the weather, I'm going to try to hold it directly on the sidewalk," she said, "because the sidewalk is public."