Bronx restaurants, cultural program win $10K grants to enhance outdoor business

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Salsa Stories event on Suffolk Street in the Lower East Side of Manhattan.
Photo courtesy Closed Frame Productions

Competing against more than 200 applicants across the five boroughs, the Bronx’s Angela’s Cuisine, Angiolina’s Restaurant and Bianka Cypriano of Salsa Stories were three of the 12 winners to each receive a one-time grant of $10,000 from Alfresco NYC.

Made up of Design Trust for Public Space, Regional Plan Association (RPA) and Tri-State Transportation Campaign (TSTC), Alfresco NYC is a coalition which supports the Open Restaurants and Open Streets programs in an effort to continue to provide outdoor dining and cultural programming. 

“Our objective with this grants program was really to try and find community groups and businesses in hard-hit communities around the city. So, we looked at some of the neighborhoods where Covid had a big impact,” said Maulin Mehta, New York director for RPA.

And there was nowhere hit harder by COVID-19 than the Bronx.

Soon after the pandemic took hold of New York City, the unemployment rate skyrocketed in the Bronx to 25%, the highest rate in New York state. And the borough also suffered through cumulatively higher death and hospitalization rates due to COVID-19 than any other borough, according to a 2021 report by state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli.

According to nyc.gov, Mott Haven was one of the neighborhoods to be hit the hardest by COVID, a neighborhood in the South Bronx which already suffers from the moniker “asthma alley” due to its disparity of asthma rates.

Both Angela’s Cuisine and Salsa Stories operate in Mott Haven, while Angiolina’s Restaurant is located in Mount Eden.

Some of the requirements for receiving the grant were that the businesses must operate within a community heavily affected by COVID-19; have not received a PPP loan; have less than 100 employees and must have been in business prior to March 2020, the onset of the pandemic.

Angiolina’s Restaurant, located at 1322 Jerome Ave. in Mount Eden, serves Dominican style dishes. Photo ET Rodriguez

“In this difficult time, like we’ve been in now – I am so grateful,” said Angiolina Castillo, owner of Angiolina’s Restaurant.

Angiolina’s is located on a busy strip on the east side of Jerome Avenue, where street vendors sell second-hand goods and Mexican eateries pepper the thoroughfare. A hole in the wall off of East Clarke Place, Angiolina’s offers counter seating and a few two-tops. They serve cold beer and typical Dominican dishes like rice combination platters and frituras. Castillo told the Bronx Times she plans to use the grant money to pay rent and back taxes.

“Open Streets and Open Restaurants have provided a lifeline for our city throughout the pandemic and these programs play a critical role in its revitalization,” said Renae Reynolds, executive director of TSTC.

While the Open Streets program brings activities to the New York City streets, the Open Restaurants program was created as a stop-gap measure — at the height of the pandemic — to allow immediate outdoor dining for all restaurants in the city to help them stay afloat and, consequently, out of the need to socially distance. Both programs were created by the City Council in 2020 and are monitored by the city Department of Transportation.

Angela’s Cuisine located on 138 Street between Willis Avenue and Brown Place, opened in May 2019. When the pandemic forced them to shut their doors, Alejandro Espinosa, owner and chef, much like every other restaurant owner, built curb-side seating. But just a few months ago, in April, a motorcycle crashed into the makeshift outdoor dining area, destroying the whole lot.

Alejandro Espinosa and Angela Soriano Ayala of Angela’s Cuisine. Photo ET Rodriguez

“We’re going to redesign the ones we had outside, something more safe for the customers,” says Espinosa of his plans to use the $10,000. Espinosa stresses that he also wants to create an outdoor dining environment where passers-by “don’t disturb our customers, don’t get too close when they’re eating.”

Angela’s has an open kitchen, where you can see Espinosa at work and occasionally joined by his mother, Angela Soriano Ayala, whom the restaurant is named after. The specialty cuisine is Mexican. Hefty burritos are made with fresh ingredients and served alongside a crisp and refreshing salad with a side of homemade tortilla chips. The portions are large enough for next-day leftovers. To differentiate themselves from the dime-a-dozen Mexican food options in the neighborhood, Espinosa also serves plates like eggs benedict, wraps and burgers.

Although not a restaurateur herself, Bianka Cypriano, has provided her own form of outdoor entertainment for the people of the Bronx. Cypriano is a filmmaker by trade and founder of Salsa Stories, “an immersive salsa experience presented in communities that gave birth to salsa in the streets of NYC.”

When the pandemic imposed a citywide shutdown, Cypriano was forced to improvise. “I wanted to provide my salsa dancing community with a safe space because all the venues were closing,” she said.

So she took to the streets. The Salsa Stories program is also presented in Spanish Harlem and the Lower East Side. People of all ages can come out and salsa the day away on Kelly Street between Leggett Avenue and Avenue St. John on Aug. 26, Sept. 2, 9, 16, 29, 30 and Oct. 7 and 14.

Reach ET Rodriguez at [email protected]. For more coverage, follow us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram @bronxtimes

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