Denny's Reps Try to Allay Fears of Its New Downtown Franchise

Rendering of the proposed Denny's bar, which will seat "less than 30 people," according to owner Gurbax Marwah. Rendering: New York Design

Feb. 13, 2014

Platters of skewered chicken, bite-size burgers and cold veggies lay nearly untouched on a long table in the half-lit back room of a Financial District bar last week. They were the centerpiece of an "information session" organized by the owners and operators of New York City's first Denny's restaurant, due to open in May at 150 Nassau Street, and still facing some resistance.

Few of the invited neighbors and Community Board 1 members were on hand to mingle with the restaurant's managers, lawyers and owners, or to hear the company pitch that this Denny's would be a benign presence among the residential buildings and schools in the area. On Tuesday, Feb. 18, the eatery's application for an 8 a.m.-to-midnight liquor license will go before CB1's Seaport/Civic Center Committee for advisory approval.

Plans announced nearly a year ago to put a Denny's that serves alcohol in the landmarked residential building spurred a backlash from neighbors. They envisioned an onslaught of drunken students and other rowdies spilling out of what had been proposed as a 24-hour establishment serving alcohol until 4 a.m.

The condo board of 150 Nassau launched a $10-million lawsuit against Denny's, claiming a variety potential problems, only to drop it in return for an agreement to stop serving alcohol at midnight. David Pfeffer, a lawyer for the board, declined to discuss other aspects of the agreement, saying the board will be issuing a public statement. Jay Geiger, the president of the board of 150 Nassau Street, could not be reached for comment.

The Nassau Street restaurant will be one of 24 Denny's franchises owned by the Marwah family and their California-based Denco Enterprises, Inc. It will also be the only one of the Marwahs' franchises to serve liquor. Richard Rosen, a lawyer for Denco, said some details of the agreement with the condo board had yet to be worked out.

"The board and the Marwah family are on great terms. We're working together," Rosen said at the meet-and-greet event, held Feb. 4 at The Irish American on John Street.

Some 150 Nassau residents, however, still oppose a liquor license for the restaurant despite the agreement worked out by their board. One of them is Eric Greenleaf, who called the location inappropriate because it is near two schools.

"Almost all the Spruce Street School kids walk right past that spot when they go to and from the school," said Greenleaf, who did not attend the information session. "And then there's the proximity to Pace, and you worry about underage drinking and secondly just encouraging drinking."

"It seems strange that they happened to decide on that one particular spot," he added.

During the information session, with the restaurant's floor plans and descriptions of its sound and odor mitigation measures flashing on a screen, Denco president Gurbax "Ray" Marwah took questions.

The answers were not always to the liking of the guests.

"You know, there's a school a hundred yards away," said 140 Nassau Street resident Marc Donnenfeld, referring to the Spruce Street School at 12 Spruce St.

"My understanding is that the school is 200 yards away," said Marwah.

"You want to walk it?" Donnenfeld shot back.

Another neighbor of the building, who lives across the street at 140 Nassau St., questioned whether the restaurant would seriously card its alcohol-drinking customers, a reference to the many Pace University students in the area.

"Even if the IDs are checked, you know how the IDs are checked. Right?" said the man, who did not want to be identified.

Marwah said that anyone who looks under 30 will be asked to show an ID. "We can emphasize and address your concerns," he explained. "Yes, we are across the street from Pace but that's not our target audience for the bar. For food? Yes."

Marwah told the Trib that he wanted this Denny's to have a bar because of what he considered to be its proximity to a drinking crowd.

"Because of the Financial District and the demands of the Financial District in the local office population and so forth," he said, "that's what dictated to serve liquor."

Paul Hovitz, a member of the CB1 committee that will be voting on the license, said it appeared that Denny's had satisfied concerns about odors and soundproofing. But other issues remained.

"Who drinks at 8 o'clock in the morning, when our kids are on their way to school?"