Brooklyn Chop House’s Times Square deal made possible by COVID pandemic

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The biggest restaurant deal in the city for a majority black-owned business is in the heart of Times Square, and it was made possible by a massive COVID rental discount. 

Brooklyn Chop House (think upscale Chinese meets traditional American steakhouse) has inked a deal to move into a 25,000-square-foot space on West 47th Street. It’s slated to open in September, coinciding with the long-awaited reopening of Broadway theaters. 

BCH will have 650 seats, including 150 on a rooftop that will be under a new $250,000 retractable cover Customers can order everything from a four-pound, salt-and-pepper ginger lobster, seven-pound Peking ducks or three-ounce dry aged Porterhouse steaks. 

“Deals like this are usually only available to Fortune 500 companies because the landlords ask for millions of dollars up front for rent,” said Robert “Don Pooh” Cummins, a music exec turned restaurateur as he led this reporter on a tour of the building earlier this month. 

The former tenant, publicly traded Buffalo Wild Wings, vacated the space at the start of the pandemic, leaving behind a $15 million build-out. 

“They handed in the keys early in the pandemic and just walked away, leaving everything behind — even hundreds of bottles in the liquor cabinets and all the big screen TVs,” said Stratis Morfogen, BCH’s operations director. 

BWW also abandoned an $850,000 Jumbotron that can be used by customers to blast marriage proposals or birthday wishes, and by liquor companies or other advertisers, Morfogen said. 

At the time BCH began negotiating the deal last year, Times Square was a ghost town, he noted. “I’d drive in and be the only person in Times Square. The garage where I parked my car was down from 1,800 cars a day to 35.” 

Negotiating a deal during the lockdown was a risk, but that’s when the best deals were made, said James Famularo, president of retail leasing at Meridian Capital Group, who repped both BCH and the landlord, Friedland Properties. 

Cummins initially rejected a 10-year lease offer and ended up with a 20-year lease plus a base rent that was “50 percent less” than what Buffalo Wild Wings paid, he said. The rent will increase based on revenue, but is capped at a certain point, which Cummins declined to specify. 

“All we have to do now are cosmetic changes — like turning the roof into a Hamptons-in-the-city kind of beach lounge,” said Cummins, who got his start working with music icons such as Sean “Diddy” Combs and Mary J. Blige, and is credited with discovering Foxy Brown. 

“This is a milestone and inspiration to other black entrepreneurs who want to get into the restaurant business and other businesses,” Cummins said. 

BCH first opened a 6,000-square-foot space in the Financial District (not Brooklyn) in 2018. The Times Square site will become its flagship. 

Cummins has been in the restaurant business since 2000. He is one of the first black IHOP franchise owners — with three in the city — and he is opening the world’s first Flip’d by IHOP, its newest quick-service brand, later this summer at Park Avenue and 23rd. 

In addition, Cummins is an owner of another concept, Brooklyn Dumpling Shop, which was founded by Morfogen. It’s opening a 1,000-square-foot flagship in the East Village’s St. Marks Place on Wednesday. 

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