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Urban Garden Center to Open a New Organic Cafe

By Dartunorro Clark | December 6, 2016 5:34pm
 UGC eats on East 118th Street and Park Avenue will open Dec. 15.
UGC eats on East 118th Street and Park Avenue will open Dec. 15.
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DNAinfo/Dartunorro Clark

EAST HARLEM — Orchids, ferns, graffiti, organic Greek-imported olive oil and vintage parking meters.

It’s a bizarre combination, but these items — among many others — are the central pieces of an East Harlem cafe being opened as a spin-off of the Urban Garden Center.

A massive fire in May at the La Marqueta garden center under the Metro-North railroad viaduct at East 116th Street caused regular city inspections that owner Dimitri Gatanas has called burdensome and unfair.

His new eatery is designed to make the future more settled and “co-mingle the brands.” He said he wants to look ahead as spaces for urban farming and gardening in the city become scarce.

“These large urban spaces are far and few in-between,” he said. “This is an opportunity for us to look into the future.”

The goal is to combine the urban feel of the city with nature at the new café, UGC eats.

The café is located down the street from the garden center at the corner of East 118th Street and Park Avenue and will offer all-natural, locally-sourced food and drinks.

“I’m going to lose weight, I can’t wait,” Gatanas quipped.

It's slated to open on Dec. 15.

Everything will have a price tag — customers can buy the vintage decorations on the wall, the antique chairs and tables, the Harlem soap and Bronx hot sauce.

“It’s a market meets a café meets a plant store,” he said. “The same kookiness you find at the Urban Garden Center.”

 The menu will be all-natural and health-conscious.
The menu will be all-natural and health-conscious.
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DNAinfo/Dartunorro Clark

Gatanas said he wanted to add more to the scene in the neighborhood, where a 2014 gas explosion demolished two buildings, killed eight people and displaced hundreds.

“This zone of East Harlem is almost forgotten,” he said. “This zone is under-serviced.” 

He said it’s meant to not only be a place to go for a cheap sandwich and a cup of coffee, but also a community space that highlights the neighborhood’s history and character.

The menu details are currently being worked out, but it will be Mediterranean-inspired with coffee for a dollar and other items $19 and under.  

Many decorative items in the café, including antique airplane seats and the parking meters, were acquired from friends, local purveyors and auctions, Gatanas said.

All of the foods will come from homegrown vendors like Pâtisserie Vanessa, the nearby Hot Bread Kitchen and GrowNYC, among other city-based and upstate sellers.

Gatanas, whose family has roots in the neighborhood, admitted running the new venture would be challenging, but also something fun and unusual for the neighborhood.  

“We really hope it works out,” he said. “We’re doing this with sticks and stones.”

 The cafe combines urban and woodsy decor.
The cafe combines urban and woodsy decor.
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DNAinfo/Dartunorro Clark