Luisa’s family has lived in the same apartment building on Onderdonk Avenue in Ridgewood since she was 10 years old. Now, she worries that time will come to an end. Last year, when Luisa (who asked to only use her first name) found herself working out of the apartment, she started to notice how quickly changes in the neighborhood were happening. Local property values had skyrocketed, and she says her landlord has said, many times, she’s thinking about selling. “If she were to put it up for sale, we would be evicted in a matter of just closing your eyes,” Luisa fears. “We don’t have a lease,” she says, “so there are very real concerns that I do have.”
While she says there’s no immediate threat to her family, she’s worried that may change any day now. She spent the summer listening to the drilling and construction along Onderdonk Avenue, including for Rolo’s, a new restaurant from a trio of former Manhattan chefs. “It was just this nightmare for me,” Luisa says, “because I knew what was happening.”
Rolo’s is the kind of low-fuss, New American place you might expect from four veterans of Danny Meyer’s Gramercy Tavern who wanted to open a casual, outer-borough dining room. Rolo’s sells eight kinds of pickles, pineapple-rum Negronis, homemade focaccia, fresh pasta, and containers filled with slow-braised lamb ragù. A recent review in The New Yorker said it offered “a taste of New York.” Howard Kalachnikoff, one of the chef-partners, calls it, “Just a simple, neighborhood restaurant, focused on cooking over a wood-burning grill.” The goal of opening, he explains, is “to put down some roots and then see what happens after that.”
Pandemic dining restrictions meant Rolo’s opened first as a market with only takeout and delivery. A few weeks ago, the owners put out some tables, and they have a warm-weather streetery structure in the works (hmm, a sign NYC open streets are being weaponized for privatization?-JQ LLC). Eventually, Kalachnikoff imagines diners dropping in a couple of times each week, and he wants to stay in business for a long time. Ben Howell, another partner, adds, “nothing would make us happier than if some of the young adults that come here now come in in 15 years with their kids, when their kids are graduating.”
Due to the pandemic, Rolo’s opened in January as a grocery store, selling everything from single-origin spices to De Cecco pasta, and takeout business.
Indeed, some neighbors don’t see any drawback to the arrival of Rolo’s or the building’s renovation. “I’m not aware of any negatives,” says Paul Kerzner, a 49-year member of Community Board 5. “I walked into that building about a month ago when that was finished,” he recalls. “I was tickled to death when I saw that the graffiti was coming down and the boards that were up were coming down, and we’re going to get glass back again.”
But for others, Rolo’s is something more than a destination for a quiet weeknight meal. “I’m so excited because I like this kind of food,” says Laura Duarte, who, with her siblings, opened her own restaurant, Las Chilangas, just before the pandemic hit. “But the way we think about this type of restaurant opening … I know the rent is going to increase so much.”