By CHARLES FERRUZZA
When the J.E. Dunn Construction Company pulled out of advertising mogul Bob Bernstein’s much-hyped West Edge project last week, it didn’t just leave the long-delayed office-hotel-and retail complex in limbo. It added more stress to the life of restaurateur James Frantze.
Frantze owns JJ’s Restaurant, directly across from the unfinished Moshe Safdie-designed complex (which still looks like a penitentiary to me) at 910 W. 48th Street. Last year Frantze told me how excited he was by the massive project, which could bring hundreds of new customers to his intimate bistro.
Instead, the acrimonious battle between contractor and developer and the delayed construction – the street in front of his restaurant narrows to a single lane and was briefly closed off completely -- has seriously cut into his business.
“Our business is down by 38 percent,” Frantze says. “And in this economic climate!”
Frantze and his staff, including executive chef Linda Duerr, have been fighting back any way they can. Frantze has redesigned the interior of the space and created a sidewalk dining area -- “The smokers love it,” he says -- and Duerr has redesigned the menu. And although JJ’s is known for its elegant cuisine, Frantze instituted a two-for-one burger lunch special that’s become very popular – especially with the hungry construction crews.
The construction workers can get to the restaurant more easily too, since there’s no valet parking during the lunch hours. Before Bernstein’s West Edge project broke ground, there were at least thirty parking spaces around the vicinity for JJ’s lunch patrons. No more.
“I ran into Bob Bernstein a couple of weeks ago,” Frantze says, “and he assured me the complex will be completed. But it was supposed to be done seven months ago! And now, who knows when? People ask my future plans and I tell them, ‘Survival!’
“The only way we can stay in business,” he adds, “is to be the best restaurant we can be. We have staff meetings just to discuss all the ways we can better – we can’t afford to make any mistakes. Even the burgers we sell at lunch are the best. We use ground tenderloin and strip loin. Two of those for the price of one? It’s the best deal in town.”
Hey, if I can ever find a place to park, I’ll order a couple.