The Bronx Burger House at 5816 Mosholu Ave., across from Van Cortlandt Park, is a literal house with rust-red shingles and big windows with white frames. Inside, general manager Laura Levine-Pinedo is standing by the bar and greeting people as they walk in. Long-time customer, Jose Mateo, enjoys a drink as he stands at a high-top with the restaurant’s owner, Andre El-Saieh. They are all chatting away across the room. At the Bronx Burger House, they serve good burgers and build strong community.
“I’m a kid from 238 Street with nothing to lose and I just want to do my part to bring this community closer together,” says Levine-Pinedo.
Just this month, she joined the non-profit KRVC Development Corp, which aims to enrich the Kingsbridge, Riverdale and Van Cortlandt neighborhoods through social, cultural, environmental and business enterprises. A few weeks ago, Levine-Pinedo fed 25 veterans at the restaurant and provided 100 lunches to the VA hospital on Kingsbridge Road — a decision she said was influenced by her own childhood.
“My father is a veteran and I grew up with him in and out of homelessness,” she added.
On Sept. 13, Levine-Pinedo and El-Saieh received one of the four Betty Campbell-Adams Best Merchant Awards from Bronx Community Board 8 and earlier this year, Levine-Pinedo organized Riverdale’s first-ever Pride event.
Now, along with her co-organizer Michael Gabert of Flexis Media, Levine-Pinedo is at it again with the first-ever Riverdale Restaurant Week.
“We tend to get left out of (NYC) restaurant week, so I wanted to do something about that,” she said.
NYC Restaurant Week, which was established in 1992 and organized by NYC & Co, occurs semiannually, and has lacked Bronx representation over the years. Of the 530 eateries that participated in 2021 — the first in-person restaurant week following the onset of the pandemic — only six were located in the Bronx.
To remedy the disparity, the Bronx Tourism Council started Savor the Bronx in 2011 — a 12-day culinary event that follows the NYC Restaurant Week model, but has no affiliation with NYC & Co.
Still, Bronx representation and participation is few and far between.
“I don’t want to point any fingers,” says Lisa Sorin, president of the Bronx Chamber of Commerce, “but there’s a break in communications — that’s something the chamber needs to figure out how to mend.”
Sorin explains that one such priority for the Bronx Chamber of Commerce is to create a centralized database with the licensing information of every restaurant in the Bronx in order to streamline communication. The hope is that this will help Bronx eateries become more visible and in turn, they may be able to participate in events such as NYC Restaurant Week.
Miguel Matos, the chamber’s restaurant outreach specialist, is currently on the task of organizing hundreds of restaurants. The chamber hopes to have some iteration of the database available by the first quarter of 2023.
The inaugural Riverdale Restaurant Week will run from Oct. 1-8 with a bar crawl on the final day. Restaurateurs pay $100 to participate and the event will include 29 restaurants offering lunch and dinner discounts and/or prix fixe menus, which are available online at dineoutriverdale.com — prices range from $19 to $50.
Levine-Pinedo has also guaranteed live musical performances at several venues and even a shuttle service to assist with the bar crawl on Oct. 8. The shuttle will run on the hour for the duration of the crawl — 1-8 p.m. — and will start at the Bronx Public House on 231 Street.
“I think it’s good for all the restaurants in the community, helps get us back on the map. We’ve had a hard year, even after COVID, we’re still having a hard time,” says El-Saieh.
Profits from Riverdale Restaurant Week will go to community refrigerators in the Riverdale, Kingsbridge and Van Cortlandt neighborhoods. “We’re not only putting our neighborhoods on the map, we’re fighting food insecurities in our communities, “said Levine-Pinedo.
Rani Vaswani, owner of the 23-year-old Barbecue Pit at 5788 Mosholu Ave., just a few doors down from the Bronx Burger House, is a one-woman show. Short of one sous-chef, Vaswani does it all. She greets customers, takes their order, cooks their food which she makes from scratch, runs the food, rings up the check, answers all of the phone calls and takes delivery orders. Because she practically does everything herself, she will be offering the restaurant week pricing on to-go orders as well.
“I think it’s a great opportunity for people to explore new restaurants they wouldn’t normally go to,” says Mateo, who is looking forward to trying the newly opened Home BX Steakhouse at 224 W. 238 St.
Vaswani is rolling out pie dough in her open kitchen when she tells the Bronx Times, “one hand washes the other, that’s how a community works.”
Several attempts to reach NYC & Co. returned no response.
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