To Survive, Gohan-Ya Merges with Lovely Day On Elizabeth Street

Posted on: June 10th, 2020 at 8:08 am by

Photo: Eddie Panta

Lovely Day on Elizabeth Street has become a local favorite because of its affordable home-cooking and cozy neighborhood vibe. But now the something-for-everyone menu, which already includes both Asian and American comfort food, is about to get even more diverse.

Owner Kazusa Jibiki is merging the Japanese fare from her second restaurant, Gohan-Ya, into Lovely Day’s ever-expanding To-Go menu. Running two restaurants apparently proved unsustainable during the pandemic shutdown. So, rather than risk the integrity of both brands – not to mention her own health – Kazusa closed the Orchard Street spin-off.

Combining the restaurants under one roof isn’t the only change Kazusa was forced to make in order to survive. Like many other small businesses, Lovely Day pivoted to selling essential products in order to cover losses. Throughout the shutdown, the restaurant offered customers a wide selection of essentials to take-out orders including, hand-sanitizer, organic soap, farm-raised eggs, specialty snacks, and yes, even toilet paper. They are also diversifying by serving specialty drinks to go, including Mezcal Margaritas and merchandising bottles of wine for sale from the storefront window.

Photo: Eddie Panta

The Japanese-born restauranteur, Kazusa, opened Lovely Day in 2002, and was a part of the neighborhood’s Post-9/11 comeback. Now Eighteen years later, Lovely Day is a bustling hotspot with deep ties to the community. Kazusa counts locals as both loyal customers and staff, which she’s been able to keep on payroll because of the Federal Payroll Protection Program. However, without dine-in service, it’s been a one-woman show, juggling in-store pick-ups, expanding online orders with a variety of delivery services, shifting from cash to credit cards and dealing with the loss of vendors, all while costs on basics like eggs increased.

Gohan-Ya opened summer 2016, Photo: Gohan-Ya

New York City restaurants have a hard time breaking even at full-capacity, so a successful comeback hinges on the ability to accommodate the lunch, brunch, and dinner crowds, as seating is severely limited by half-capacity measures. Sidewalk cafe tables must be six feet apart, which means Lovely day will lose one table-top, but will gain more seating when, and if, the City is able to enact its Phase 3 Outdoor Dining program.

Kazusa has already started looking ahead to Phase 3 by attending online Community Board 2 meetings in order to navigate the city’s ordinances, while also advocating for outdoor, public seating on Elizabeth Street. For now, it appears that storefronts like Lovely Day will be able to petition the DOT to transform the parking spaces directly outside the storefront and convert them into al fresco dining areas.

Lovely Day is also without the Elizabeth Street Garden as an amenity that provides space for office workers to eat.  The garden, directly across the street, has been closed since the shutdown began three months ago. DeSalvio Playground just around the corner, which also provides seating, is likewise closed.

Kazusa, who lives nearby, has developed deep ties in the neighborhood, making friends and partnerships with other restaurantuers, local shop owners, as well as supporting local community causes including the Elizabeth Block Association.

For now, it’s about surviving, not thriving. And Little Italy will come together and persevere as it has in the past.

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