Souen, the long-running downtown restaurant specializing in organic, macrobiotic & dairy-free dishes "made for healthy eating," has announced that it will be closing its SoHo location at the end of the month. But devoted patrons have already started a petition to save it.
The restaurant, which has two locations in the city (the other is in the East Village) and has been in operation since 1971, will serve its last meal at 210 Sixth Avenue on January 27th. Longtime staffer Jaiko Suzuki told us, "It's so sad, because honestly, where else do you find people who are really making [such] really natural food?"
A woman at Souen just asked them to weigh her food! I live for this shit!
— Chris Black (@donetodeath) January 9, 2019
"We're not leaving voluntarily, we want to keep the business open, we love the location," said Beth Saito, one of the co-owners. She explained that after the death four years ago of longtime owner Masaaki Yamaguchi—who founded both the SoHo location, Souen Ramen in the East Village, as well as the now-shuttered Union Square one—they have been waiting to see how things would settle with the estate. Yamaguchi owned the retail space, which has now been acquired by the Co-op board that controls the building.
"We've been hanging onto this spot hoping we could find a buyer who would want us as their tenant. I even researched purchasing it," she said. "But the co-op board have wanted it from beginning."
The Co-op Board of 210 6th Avenue has now officially purchased the space, and Saito says they've decided to rent it to Cobi Levy, who owns the nearby Little Prince. "I can't stand in the way of the deal, the complication is that it's a community asset as well, it's very well loved, and once the word got out people are really outraged," she said. "We've been in business 35 years, and it serves as a meeting place for people to meet one on one, not just to be in isolation in coffee shops or buying groceries to take home. It's really a community space."
As Eater pointed out in a piece on how Souen’s macro plate has become a NYC staple (they sell around 400 of the $9.25 macro plates each day), Souen has become a beloved spot for many celebrities and people in the fashion world, including model Karlie Kloss, designer Rachel Antonoff ("Souen is one of my all time favorites"), creative director Joe Zee, Lucky editor Eva Chen, actress Busy Philipps, actress Alicia Silverstone, musician Moby, and The Wing cofounder Audrey Gelman.
APPARENTLY SOUEN IS BEING CLOSED BY REAL ESTATE DEVELOPERS. Does anyone know anything about this??
— Audrey Gelman (@audreygelman) January 10, 2019
As the petition notes, "Souen is much more than a restaurant to all of us - it is a social and community space, a workspace, and an educational space where we all have learned to take better care of our health...Every time we lose a business like this we lose a piece of our collective history and the city becomes a more sterile and unfriendly place." Saito says she's glad the word is getting out about the upcoming closure, and hopes patrons can organize a visit to the next community board meeting to impress upon the board the importance of the restaurant.
We've reached out to Levy for comment, and will update when we hear back. He has been responding to a few angry people who have taken to the comments on his Instagram account. On one photo, a person wrote, "Yo if hell existed there’d for sure be a spot reserved for the guy who forces souen out of soho. You and trump could wear jeans together." He responded: "Should you care. I didn’t force them out. The proprietor died and his family opted to close the business. They owned the retail space and sold it in December for over $2M. It’s public record."
Another commenter countered: "Just to fact check here. The original owner died and his family was pressured by the co-op board to sell the space. The NEW owner of Souen (who had been an employee for decades) wanted to buy and was blocked by the board. They offered to allow her to stay but have her rent tripled, which she can not afford. The board was able to secure the property based on Levy’s guarantee of much higher rent. Souen does not want to leave. They are being forced out."
An email obtained by Grub Street that Saito sent to Souen supporters appears to support the claim that Souen is being priced out:
The co-op board refused our tenancy application in 2017 without disclosing their asking rent. It finally was understood that the figure was around 30K. Souen currently pays 10K, far under neighborhood rents. A lease was never drawn up between [Souen founder and landlord] Yama and Souen, although a shareholder’s agreement states that a 20 year lease is promised thru Jan 1, 2019. We indeed have been operating for 20 years without a lease having been drawn up.
You can see some more of the passionate reactions to the news below.
Cobi Levy have some decency pic.twitter.com/qKOx7qxuH3
— dasha (@dash_eats) January 11, 2019
People freaking out about Souen closing like it is a humanitarian crisis pic.twitter.com/qHKTiRxard
— Misty White Sidell (@MistyWhiteS) January 10, 2019
Fighting the closing of the only safe pro-Ana restaurant in soho is really giving me a taste for local politics !!
— Kaitlin Phillips (@yoloethics) January 11, 2019
First Angelica Kitchen & now Souen!! What’s with NYC? Raising rent on the OG vegetarian spots to open chain retail spots. I am hurt about this. #SaveSouen
— Allison Scheinfeld Churchill (@alischeinfeld) January 10, 2019
when people say they’re upset that souen is closing i want to send them a wikihow article on how to steam broccoli or cook brown rice
— Standard Definition (@briandroitcour) January 11, 2019