Barbara Smith, a famous model and “lifestyle entrepreneur,” started her B. Smith’s restaurant in 1986 in a New York neighborhood that, at the time, was "better known for junkies and hookers.” Since opening her Southern-inspired dining establishment, she helped reestablish the city's Theater District as a popular and profitable tourist attraction.
“What Barbara Smith accomplished on the Avenue of Lost Souls is nothing short of remarkable,” said Dan Gasby, her husband and business partner, in a recent New York Post report.
With the enormous popularity of her restaurant, Smith decided that it needed to expand to a larger facility. She then relocated from West 47th street to Restaurant Row in New York. Her restaurant has been there for going on 11 years.
However, some recent and unexpected financial issues have her wondering whether she should just close shop. See, Local 1 of the stagehands runs the building she has leased for the last 11 years on Restaurant Row--the same union that saw its membership grow in proportion to the Theater District's surge in popularity.
“Now with the lease expiring in February, the union wants to increase the rent 350 percent — from around $13,500 a month to about $50,000, going up to $60,000 a month within five years,” reports the Post.
This enormous increase has many believing that the same union that saw its membership grow as a result in the popularity of the pre- and post-theater dining location is purposely muscling Smith out of the distinct.
“The very nature of the money they are asking says they don’t want us here,” Smith said. “Our attitude is that we survived 11 years and gave the building and Restaurant Row more value than it had previously.”
Why the union would want do this is anyone's guess.
Indeed, it seems very odd, even ungrateful, that they would want to push her out given the fact that her restaurant has for over two decades attracted top tier celebrities (including Robert DeNiro, Denzel Washington, and Sidney Poitier) which, in turn, attracted tourists and their money.
“At B. Smith, there wasn’t an us and a them — it was just everyone coming together and having a good time,” Gasby said.
Nevertheless, a true entrepreneur, Smith has several other endeavors she can fall back on if she does indeed decide to pull the plug on her Restaurant Row eatery.
“She has other restaurants in the Hamptons and Washington, DC, her own line of home products from Bed, Bath & Beyond, and a furniture line — leading some to dub her ‘the black Martha Stewart,’” reports the Post.