EAST VILLAGE — A day after beloved vegan eatery Angelica Kitchen announced it would be closing its doors April 7, fans of the neighborhood mainstay raised thousands of dollars to support its owner, who's now deep in debt from trying to keep it afloat.
Owner Leslie McEachern said she racked up major personal debt after years of battling skyrocketing expenses, declining income and operating at a deficit before deciding it was finally time to bring an end to the restaurant's 40-year run in the East Village.
"We are definitely part of the tradition and the fabric of the community and it was very hard to decide to close, but I felt like I had done everything I could," said McEachern. "The forces were not with me — the forces being landlords and utilities."
McEachern said she knew she was taking a risk when she signed a new lease in 2014 — rent was $21,000 a month, plus utilities and taxes. She made several last-ditch efforts to save her business in its final years — introducing brunch and organic beverages, and accepting credit cards — but those efforts just ended up costing her more, she said.
She ended up funneling her personal funds into the business in an attempt to revive it, but in the end she couldn't make it work, she explained, and is now buried in debt. She didn't say exactly how much personal debt she accrued — but an online fundraising site is asking for a staggering $245,000.
Friends of McEachern launched a campaign to help ease her financial woes. Her good friend Tom Ponzio, who managed construction on the eatery's 12th Street space, launched a Gofundme page with his "sweetheart" Monica Gotz to put a dent in McEachern's debt.
As of Monday, $5,540 had been raised. The funds will go towards paying back local farmers and small businesses who have helped support the business over the years, according to the campaign page.
"I'm very, very grateful because we've already gotten a nice response," said McEachern, adding she hopes the funds will allow her to support her staffers who will soon be out of work.
"The page will hopefully allow me to show my gratitude and give them something to help them through the transition," she said.
"It makes me feel really good, that I might be able to help them through this time because it's hard for them to lose their job and think about how to start in a new place."
In addition to the financial gifts, the page has been flooded with kind words and well-wishes from loyal patrons.
"Your Dragon Bowl is the only food in New York that makes me feel at home," wrote one well wisher. "Thank you for all of the best dinners with friends I have had in the city and for being a place that stands by its values and strives to be simple and good instead of glitzy and unsustainable. I am sorry to see you go."
McEachern said the sentiments have been pouring in not just from locals, but from fans around the world — diners who came through while visiting the city have reached out to thank her for the vegan eats.
"I just heard from someone this morning from London, India," she said.
"I’m hearing from people all over, and mostly it's 'Thanks.' It's 'No, don't do it.' Most of it is 'Thank you for feeding us.' It's very gratifying to receive people's thoughts and feeling along that line."