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Wall Street Journal: Eating Spots Perk Up Cortelyou Road

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The Wall Street Journal’s Kavita Mokha recently wrote a glowing piece on the growing number of restaurants and cafés on Cortelyou Road.  Congratulations to all the merchants on Cortelyou Road!

Ditmas Park’s leafy environs, ornate Victorian homes and designation as a historic district already make the area a draw for nest seekers. Now, the emergence of a string of new restaurants along the neighborhood’s main drag, Cortelyou Road, is spicing up the neighborhood and solidifying its status as a foodie destination.

In the past year alone, half a dozen new eateries have opened up within a seven-block radius on Cortelyou Road, between East 17th Street and Coney Island Avenue. The three most recent to open within steps of each other are: Café Madeline, Catskill Bagel Co. and Qathra Café.

Qathra, which opened its doors in September, has had a brisk reception since opening day.

“Never before has a café I helped launch picked up business this fast,” said manager Collin Crockett, who has experience with opening more than a dozen coffee shops around the country in recent years. “We had an opening party Sept. 14 and the next day it was packed.”

Steps away from Qathra is the newly opened Catskill Bagel, whose owner, James Geritano, also owns Bagels by the Park in Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn. Mr. Geritano points to the changing demographics in the neighborhood as one of the reasons for the success of new ventures along the strip.

“I see quite a few people that are in Ditmas Park who were my old customers at Bagels by the Park,” said Mr. Geritano. “We saw the neighborhood changing—the same trend I saw in Carroll Gardens years ago with younger professionals, artists and writers moving into the neighborhood.”

Ditmas Park, as defined by Brooklyn Community Board 14, is bounded by Dorchester Road to the north, Ocean Avenue to the east, Newkirk Avenue to the south and East 16th Street to the west. Ditmas Park West includes the area to Coney Island Avenue.

Large Victorian houses situated on tree-lined streets, along with a handful of co-ops and condominium developments in the area, have been attracting home buyers and renters for years. Given its proximity to Manhattan—the Q train commute to downtown Manhattan is just 30 minutes—the area was an easy sell but lacked the flavors of today’s Cortelyou until a few years ago.

Sit-down restaurants with patios, trendy bars and cafés are now steadily replacing dollar stores, vacant lots and bodegas. The new establishments are catering to an evolving demographic.

“A lot of my customers from Prospect Heights and Park Slope who are young but now have growing families were moving to this neighborhood,” said Alexander Hall, owner of recently opened Café Madeline, who was directed to Ditmas Park by customers at his other eatery, Milk Bar, in Prospect Heights. “They knew we were looking to expand and recommended we check out Ditmas Park.”

The recent economic woes have not only helped to bring in home buyers and renters looking for deals, but have enabled entrepreneurs to lock in commercial leases at favorable prices in the neighborhood, ushering in a culinary renaissance for Ditmas Park.

“New businesses are taking over former dilapidated spaces and adding value to the fabric of the neighborhood in a way that another 99-cent store or beauty salon can not,” said Jeff Surowka, a real-estate agent with Abacus Properties, who has helped broker the leases for several new establishments on Cortelyou.

The combination of market conditions and the neighborhood’s relatively undiscovered status are, in part, inspiring mini culinary empires along the strip.

A trio of young restaurateurs—Ben Heemskerk, Mimi Kitani and Avi Shuker—who met while working at the Farm on Adderley a few years ago, have launched three outposts on the same block since 2009.

Mr. Heemskerk and Mr. Shuker head the Castello Plan, a wine and tapas bar that opened earlier this year, while Mr. Shuker and Ms. Kitani co-own two other eateries on the strip: the popular Mimi’s Hummus at 1209 Cortelyou Rd. and Market, a food shop next door that opened around the same time as Castello Plan.

“Three new ventures in two years is not bad,” said Mr. Heemskerk. “We signed the lease in March 2009 for Castello Plan at the height of the recession when the owners didn’t have the confidence we had, because we were involved with the neighborhood and knew its potential.”

The owners of the Farm on Adderley, one of the first restaurants on Cortelyou to attract a destination-dining crowd, have also expanded their turf on the stretch by opening Sycamore, a combo bar and flower shop. Locals credit the Farm, along with the Picket Fence and now-closed Vox Pop Café, with opening up the neighborhood to later developments.

Some locals express concerns about the pace of the area’s gentrification, but others are content to welcome the recent additions.

“A lot of these new places are run by independent, creative types who are very much part of this community,” said Mary Shanahan, 46 years old, who bought a house in the area nearly a decade ago. “I’d rather not have to drive around Park Slope for an hour looking for parking just to have a few drinks and a decent meal.”

Topics: Economic Development, Latest News