Element Seafood has closed officially its doors, a building representative and former manager confirmed to the Great Neck News on Tuesday.
Jay Confino, the president of the Board of Directors for the Wychwood, the building that was home to Element Seafood, said former manager Mathew Ingraham told him the restaurant could not draw enough customers and pointed to a lack of valet parking as a considerable problem “right off the top.”
“People loved his food, the atmosphere was lovely, the people who worked there were lovely,” Confino said, “but he couldn’t get people in.”
“The rent is reasonable, the space is wonderful, it looks gorgeous there,” Confino later added, “it’s just unfortunate, that’s all.”
The Village of Great Neck Village prohibits valet parking.
Owners Mathew Ingraham and Nellie Wu had opened the seafood restaurant, located at 20 S. Station Plaza, in September last year with a goal of creating and cool and casual environment with quality seafood.
Its offerings included bucatini pasta, crab, Manila clams, scallops, seared tuna, mussels and bouillabaisse. The bar also featured a revamped menu of cocktails, including the “Maple Drive.”
“They closed for business,” Barney Villalona, the most recent general manager of Element Seafood, confirmed on Tuesday.
Wu, in an email sent to Blank Slate Media publisher and editor Steven Blank on May 15, said “it’s not specifically a parking issue,” but that people had cited problems with parking as a reason for not going to the restaurant.
“We have adjusted our menus, promoted Happy Hour, and changed managers… but we still struggle with getting our footing in the town,” Wu wrote. “People just don’t go out or they’d rather not spend money in town, again citing the issues with parking (although there are several municipal lots within short walks of the restaurant).”
Villalona, in a late May interview, said some of the challenges the restaurant had faced included the angle of the restaurant, issues with parking and getting Long Island Rail Road commuters to come in.
Confino said the location of Element Seafood has been home to restaurants since 1929, with five eateries being there in a 30-year span. Those restaurants included Fuji-Ya, which closed in the early 2000s, the Carousel, Lamed Vav, Station Grill and Katerina Ristorante Italiano.
Cary Rosner, a partner of Katerina Ristorante Italiano, which immediately preceded Element Seafood, said his restaurant faced similar problems with parking spawned by the village’s prohibition of valet parking, changing demographics and lack of foot traffic.
“It was about being able to get enough people into the door,” Rosner said in an interview. “It’s almost an impossibility.”
Rosner said the problems were particularly pronounced at his location, but there are issues throughout Great Neck Plaza not conducive to businesses. He recommended more incentives for landlords and doing more to attract people to the village.
“If you go into the area and you see the amount of vacancies, it’s really not good,” Rosner said, adding that it discourages businesses from coming into the village.
When asked if he had any advice for someone considering moving into 20 S. Station Plaza, Rosner said, “Don’t do it, unless many conditions are met.”
Jay Corn, the vice president of the Great Neck Plaza Business Improvement District, said the closure of Element Seafood was “very unfortunate,” especially considering how experienced the management was.
“I think a restaurant like that at some of the other towns on the North Shore would’ve been very successful,” Corn said, later noting that he believes Great Neck is “going through a transition and it has to work its way out.”
Corn said there might also be too many restaurants in Great Neck Plaza, dating back to a number of openings in the 1970s and ’80s, as well as a shift toward service-oriented businesses in the internet age.
“The amount of restaurants we have, we can’t support,” Corn said. “We just don’t have that kind of traffic to support that amount of restaurants.”
When asked about whether parking might have had something to do with Element Seafood’s closing, Corn said that while “parking can always be better” Fuji-Ya managed to succeed for many years without valet parking.
Corn said the last time the village tried valet parking it “was a disaster,” with cars lined up, left in the street and double parking, making it hard for people to cross the street safely.
“It was a dangerous situation,” Corn said.
Corn added that compared to neighboring communities like Roslyn, which has an abundance of parking lots available, Great Neck is in a tougher situation.
“Great Neck doesn’t have that luxury,” Corn said. “It is what it is and we’ve got to work around it.”