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'Arepa Lady' Moves to New Space but Starbucks Blocks it From Selling Coffee

By Katie Honan | October 12, 2017 9:50am | Updated on October 12, 2017 3:31pm
 The Arepa Lady's restaurant will be razed for a new apartment by the end of the year, forcing the move.
The Arepa Lady's restaurant will be razed for a new apartment by the end of the year, forcing the move.
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Instagram/Arepa Lady

JACKSON HEIGHTS — The Arepa Lady restaurant has found a new home — but it's new neighbor Starbucks will have a say over its menu.

The Colombian food cart, which lost the lease for its first brick-and-mortar restaurant, won't be allowed to serve coffee at its new digs due a clause added by the neighboring mega-chain prohibiting the sale of java.

Alejandro Osorio, who owns the restaurant along with his wife, Nelly Klinger, and is the son of of famous "Arepa Lady" Maria Cano, said they plan to move to the former Ingrid's Salon at 78-31 37th Ave. over the next few months.

They sought a full beer, wine and liquor license for their new space at Community Board 3's meeting Wednesday night.

Although they have to come back next month for final approval, they discussed their plans for the future.

The planned future home of Arepa Lady in Jackson Heights. (DNAinfo/Katie Honan)

The new restaurant will have seating for 30, which nearly doubles the current capacity at their 77th Street restaurant that opened in 2014. And the menu, filled with authentic arepas, patacones, chuzos and more, will stay the same — except for the beverages.

The neighboring Starbucks put a clause in its lease that blocks other restaurants in the connected storefronts to sell coffee products. The issue also came up when Arunee Thai moved there, the board said.

"That's one of the main reasons we want to do liquor," Osorio said. "No coffee, no tea."

After this story was originally published, a spokeswoman from Starbucks told DNAinfo their store on 37th Avenue is "one of many coffee options that customers can choose from in the neighborhood."

"As with all of our locations, we work with our landlords to determine what makes the most sense for our stores," a spokeswoman wrote in an email. The company did not specifically answer a question about terms of its lease prohibiting neighbors from selling coffee and tea.

Despite the restrictions, the owners said they were happy they found a new space, especially on 37th Avenue. 

They began looking for a new storefront after demolition permits were approved at their current home. The building's owner plans to knock it down and build a seven-story apartment building.

While they also have a restaurant inside the new DeKalb Market in Brooklyn, they wanted to also remain in Queens — where Maria Cano, known by some as the "Sainted Arepa Lady," began selling the food from a street cart on Roosevelt Avenue.

She fled Medellín, where she was a judge, as the drug war escalated, spending more than 30 years as a food vendor. She's now retired.

"It's a lot of issues to deal with but we're excited," Klinger said after the board hearing. "We were worried about our employees, we worry about the neighbors."