A Tribeca 'Second Home for Families' Where Shopping Carts Rolled

Tony Yu, with Jenny Lo and Karl Chong, explains the plans for Cocoon to Community Board 1's Licensing Committee. The owners are applying for a beer-and-wine license for their new business. Photo: Carl Glassman/Tribeca Trib

Posted
Jan. 13, 2020

A supermarket it’s not. But the founders of a planned 18,000-square-foot “second home for families,” in the space where Tribecans went food shopping for 36 years, are betting their new membership-based business will satisfy a different sort of appetite in the neighborhood. 

Cocoon, announced to open this spring in the former Best Market space at 316 Greenwich St., is being described as a kind of one-stop-shop for parents of young children, with ground floor and cellar space for kids to play, parents to socialize, and “a lot of services and programming” with an emphasis on parent education, according to Cocoon CEO Karl Chong. 

“Our mission is to help support and empower families through their parenting journey,” Chong said in a phone interview, “and we do this by providing experts and access to a tight knit community who also value that.” 

Though Best Market and its longtime predecessor, The Food Emporium, couldn’t stay in business, many residents, especially in the Independence Plaza apartment complex where Cocoon is moving, hoped another supermarket would take their place as an alternative to nearby Whole Foods. (Best Market closed in October 2016.)

“Everyone I speak to, and it’s not just at Independence Plaza, would love a supermarket,” said Diane Lapson, president of the complex’s tenant association. She said she has long urged the building’s management to try to find a replacement for Best Market, and was shocked to learn that a different use was coming to the space.

The point was driven home last week when Chong and his partners appeared before the Community Board 1’s Licensing and Permits Committee as part of Cocoon’s application for a beer and wine license. Many Independence Plaza tenants attended the meeting and were not happy.

“We were told by management that they were looking for a space for a supermarket because what was there before was a supermarket,” John Scott, a longtime Independence Plaza resident and tenant advocate, said at the meeting. “And what we need as a community is a supermarket.” (Scott had helped the Food Emporium get a federal loan that would allow the store to build out its space and, in 1983, give Tribeca its first supermarket.)

(Vornado Realty Trust, the landlord, did not respond to a request for comment.) 

Scott also complained that the applicants had not approached the tenant association first with their plans. “I don’t have a problem with [Cocoon],” he said. “I have a problem that they didn’t come to us, the community. The people who live upstairs.”

The Cocoon principals—Chong and his wife Megan Lucas from Battery Park City, and a second couple, Lower East Siders Jenny Lo and Tony Yu—agreed to meet with tenant representatives. In a followup interview, Chong said, “We were not expecting that [complaint] and had we known we would have reached out to the tenant association. They didn’t have a lot of information about what we are.”

“At Cocoon we empathize with our neighbors but that’s something that’s really within the landlord’s pervue and not ours,” he added. “We feel that the amenity that we’re bringing, while it’s not a supermarket, it certainly can be an amenity that families in that building as well as other families can enjoy.” 

On its two floors, Cocoon is planned to have 6,000 square feet of indoor play area for children 6 months to 12 years. The floor plan also calls for an 1,800 square foot dining space, gymnastics and sports area, nursery, classroom, “mom lounge,” outdoor seating and stroller parking, and more. After-school programming and a summer camp is also planned. Chong declined to say whether day care would be offered. 

“In Battery Park [City] there are services here and there,” said Chong, the father of two and an investor for the Chong Family Trust, one of the projects funders. “But we’re constantly trying to connect the dots. Cocoon can connect the dots and bring all these services into one space.”

The Licensing and Permit Committee said Chong and his partners were too vague about Cocoon’s programming to vote on the wine-and-beer application, and were asked to return with more information.  

“There are competitive spaces and we’re launching in the spring,” Chong told the Trib, when asked for some specifics. “So we kind of want to keep some things to ourselves.”