R.I.P. La Rosita Restaurant
Broadway and 108th Street, New York City
1976 – 2009
La Rosita Restaurant used to be one of my favorite neighborhood haunts. I say used to be, because our “Little Rose” is no more. On December 30th, 2009 this beloved Cuban-Spanish eatery closed its doors. After 30 years of serving famous Café con Leche and a variety of wonderful rice and bean dishes, the owner, Cuban born Enrique Fernandez and his son, Eduardo, were forced out of business. The lease was up and the renewal rent would have been so high (perhaps artificially high) that continuing to operate was out of the question.
The restaurant was a landmark in the neighborhood. Enrique came to the U.S. seeking a better life, leaving his family until they could join him 7 years later. He worked hard building a business not only to sustain his own family, but to sustain an entire neighborhood.
The Little Rose’s loyal patrons ranged from taxi drivers and students to businessmen and professors. Children were the most welcomed customers. Generations of families had frequented the restaurant and the staff knew and welcomed them all. It was more than just a restaurant. The staff members were more than waiters and the customers were more than customers. They were family.
The story of La Rosita is not just a New York story. It’s a national story. It’s a story that is happening again and again all over our city and in other big cities as urban neighborhoods gentrify. Immigrant families led by people like Enrique build something only to have the rug pulled from under them and the community they serve. Family-owned and other small businesses are losing ground to banks and large chain stores … and franchise restaurants that are, simply put, just not the cozy spots of casual community gathering that the displaced eateries were.
As part of the community served by La Rosita Restaurant, I felt compelled to record the story of its untimely demise. We cannot permit this event to fall through the cracks as if it were “business as usual.” I have filmed over 50 hours of tape to make a documentary about the Little Rose. My mission is to record the impact this pushing-out-small businesses-to-make-way-for-“progress” trend has on local communities. I also want to tell the story of Enrique Fernandez and his son, Eduardo, and how they and their staff ran the unique restaurant, what it meant to so many people in the Columbia University neighborhood – and the significant void in our community that its departure leaves.
The documentary Viva La Rosita is a work in progress; I hope to have it finished some time in 2011.