Stone St.: A culinary Mecca in Lower Manhattan
New York, NEW YORK - Noel McDermott is a downtown restaurant entrepreneur looking to capitalize on the notion that the Financial District restaurant scene is dead by opening new bars and restaurants in an area that many have deemed a culinary wasteland.
McDermott, an Irish expatriate, most recently opened a German beer house called “Bavaria” and co-owns two other restaurants in the financial district, all of which are located on historic Stone St.
Stone St. was once a booming hub for dry goods merchants known as “Brouwer Straet” when lower Manhattan was under Dutch influence. Some say it was the first street paved with cobblestones in New York City. It was also home to New York City’s first printing factory in 1603 (which is now a bar and restaurant called Beckett's owned by McDermott and his partners). In the 1980's the street became a seedy back alley after Wall Street bank, Goldman Sachs, opened a new building at 85 Broad St., cutting Stone St. in half. But it’s now famous once again around the Financial District for its burgeoning restaurant and bar scene.
McDermott says the relative lack of competition in lower Manhattan makes it ripe for investment. Since there aren’t many other restaurants in the area, his restaurants on Stone St. are often crowded for lunch and dinner. He claims the slightly hidden street between Pearl St. and South William St. might be a lucky spot for his businesses to flourish.
“We have the slight advantage because there are so many commercial buildings here,” he said as he sat at the wooden bar in the Dubliner, one of his restaurants. There are more chain-owned restaurants, such as Denny’s (which is opening a new restaurant soon in the Downtown area) than independent, unique operations such as his.
When the weather gets warmer, business is even better. In March, they put out chairs and picnic tables for outdoor seating. Compared to restaurants within a few blocks, the difference is obvious. “They’ll be absolutely empty, and we’ll be absolutely packed,” McDermott said. “It quadruples business. Everyone wants to sit outside in the summer.”
He and his partners have a mini-cartel on Stone St; they collectively own six restaurants on the narrow roadway. McDermott co-owns three of these restaurants--Beckett’s, Bavaria Bierhaus and The Dubliner (modeled after the original Guinness brewery in Ireland).
“We’re all very friendly and help each other out, and everything just keeps getting better and better and better.”
Bavaria Bierhaus, which opened on Dec. 16, 2013, is the newest addition to McDermott’s lineup. The King’s College student Darien Olesen ('16), who waitresses at Bavaria, said “I really like working here. Both the owners and management are fantastic. I recommend the roasted chicken.”
Recently, the Financial District population has been rising and changing. The Census Bureau reported in 2012 that the population in a two-mile radius of City Hall grew by nearly 40,000 people between 2000 and 2010.
The Downtown Alliance, a coalition of property owners, has said lower Manhattan is growing and changing amid post 9/11 construction, mass transit plans and housing incentives. A 2012 story in The New York Times points to the group’s research that shows 710,000 college-educated people between ages 18 and 44 living within a 30-minute commute of the Financial District in 2010. That’s up 32 percent from the 538,000 living there before 9/11.
“There are more residents now, which is not necessarily good for us,” McDermott said. “There won’t be as much business on weekdays, because they’ll all come on the weekends.”
But he’s still hoping to attract the businessmen and businesswomen who, after a long day’s work, want to sit down at the new Bavaria restaurant with a stein of beer and a plate of comfort food such as “Kaese Spaetzle,” a German version of Mac n’ Cheese.
McDermott decided to open his first restaurant in New York about 20 years ago after a brief stint as a bartender. “I was tired of seeing everyone else opening up restaurants and bartending,” he said. “So I did it myself.”
McDermott does not plan on expanding again any time soon. Rather, he wants to focus on cultivating his restaurants in Lower Manhattan, ensuring that his employees and customers are happy.