West and East Village, Chelsea, Soho, Noho, Little Italy, Chinatown and Lower East Side, Since 1933
Volume 77, Number 26 | November 28 - December 04 2007

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Villager photo by Elizabeth Proitsis

Co-owner Jehnny Navarro behind the counter of Sucelt Coffee Shop on W. 14th St.

Latin coffee shop is latest victim of rising rents

By Patrick Hedlund

As Paul Bang lunched on what he deems the best Cuban sandwich in the city at Sucelt Coffee Shop on Tuesday, the Tribeca resident was informed that the Latin-inspired diner on 14th St. would be shutting its doors for good after three decades in the neighborhood.

“Now you’re breaking my heart,” Bang replied upon hearing the news from co-owner Jehnny Navarro. “I’m shocked. It’s another one of those disappearing outposts of what New York used to be known for.”

The tiny diner barely stands out on the busy streetscape along this stretch of 14th St. near Seventh Ave. But for more than 31 years customers of all nationalities have enjoyed the Colombian- and Cuban-infused fare for cheap at the 12-seat eatery.

Rising rents and the owners’ unwillingness to relocate their kitchen from the basement to accommodate their landlord have forced the closure, with the owners planning to turn the burners off for the last time on Christmas Eve.

“Everybody’s really, really sad,” said Navarro, who started at the family-owned restaurant after moving here from Colombia in 1978. “It’s going to be really tough.”

The restaurant is named after Navarro’s mother, Sucelt Londono.

The eatery’s owners currently pay $7,000 a month in rent, but their lease expired in June. The decision to close came after Navarro’s landlord asked that the eatery move its kitchen operations to the main dining space, which Navarro claimed would halve the amount of seats in the already cramped space.

After the lease came up, the landlord offered the owners as much time as they needed to make a decision on when to close, so they settled on the day before Christmas. They started compiling a mailing list to inform longtime patrons of any future plans, but as of now they have none.

“The rents are really expensive in the city, and I don’t have the money to get a new place,” Navarro said, adding the restaurant could only consider reopening in New Jersey.

“That sucks that they’re leaving,” said Joe Schick, who works two blocks away and has eaten stews at Sucelt for the past two years. “I like the authenticity of the food. Friendly people, too.”

As a Spanish-speaking couple with a combined 40 years of dining there ordered fried plantains, a younger patron who works nearby chose the pork sandwich — his fourth visit to the eatery in the last two weeks.

“It’s very cheap, and it’s good,” said Giovanni Rodriguez, whose mother told him about the restaurant.

The space continued to fill with a hungry lunchtime crowd on Tuesday, but most appeared unaware that their seats would be gone in less than a month.

“As soon as I finish here, I’ll take a few days off to realize that this is it,” Navarro explained. “It’s going to be really hard for us.”

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