Last Wednesday, rumors swirled that Great Jones Cafe—the quirky Cajun oasis among the high end restaurants and properties of NoHo—would close its doors after 34 years on its namesake street. Fans of the restaurant showed up to pay their respects but received mixed messages from employees, some of whom said the Cafe would reopen within a week, while others said it could be months or longer. Wednesday morning, however, the Cafe definitively said it would be reopening for good, putting to bed (for now) any fears of losing a fixture of a changing neighborhood.

This morning, Gothamist spoke to Jim Moffett, who has been the owner of Great Jones Cafe since 1989, when former owners Rich Kresberg and Phil Hartman—the latter of whom now owns the Two Boots empire—sold him their six-year-old business. "As I like to joke, I bought the place twice," Moffett says. "Because I spent so much money there as a customer between 1983 and 1989 and then I officially bought it in 1989. So I sort of bought it twice."

We spoke to Moffett about the origin of that closure rumor, the future for Great Jones Cafe, and what it means to be looked at as the last of a dying breed in an ever-gentrifying city.

We've heard from a lot of voices talking about Great Jones Cafe—it's closing, it's not closing, it might close, they want to close, etc.—but we haven't really heard from you. Could you tell me how this rumor got started and what's actually happening with the cafe right now? What happened is I got pretty badly hurt a week ago Saturday and went to the hospital. [Editor's note: Moffett said he was hospitalized for a "severe injury" but declined to elaborate.] In my absence we were forced to close for a short period of time but it was never my intention that the news should get out that we're closing period. It was a temporary closing until I got out of the hospital—which I did yesterday. We're reopening tonight [Wednesday].

All I can tell you is in this age of social media if someone says, "We're closing temporarily" and the "temporarily" gets left off and it's, "We're closing period," then that's the story everyone runs with. There shouldn't have been any confusion among staff. My assistant manager had a meeting with them about the whole issue and it was never a message to the staff that we were closing permanently. However, a week ago today, last Wednesday, the night we had this uproarious outpouring of love and a huge crowd, in part because of the false rumor, there were a lot of former staff members there. Former owners were there. Those people may have identified themselves to reporters and the social media people as employees or whatnot, even though they were former employees.

It's purely conjecture. I don't know how the story morphed from: Jim's in the hospital, we're closing for a few days, we're going to paint the bathroom and reopen ASAP. I don't know how it went from that to: Great Jones Cafe is closing. I just don't know.

So this temporary closure is just a little blip on the radar and, as of right now, there are no plans to really change anything? We reopen tonight at 5 p.m. The only change that's been made is the bathrooms have been painted. The menu's the same, the prices are the same. There is no huge change on the horizon. I am 58 years old, I'm under pressure from the landlord to do things like upgrade, raise prices, sort of make it fancier. If that should happen, it's going to happen over time and not right now. There's been enough confusion and sort of false media over the past week. I want people to come back and find the same old Great Jones Cafe that they've always loved.

To that point, a few months ago your former GM Bill Judkins said to some people that he was pushed out, namely over a differing opinion about the direction of the Cafe. Is that a fair characterization of what the situation was several months ago and what happened with Bill? I reluctantly let Bill go in March in part because of...I love Bill. He's my friend, he came to visit me in the hospital, we stayed friends I think even through it. Nobody likes being fired, I don't like firing people.

I'm hesitant to get into details, but we were drifting deeper and deeper into debt and Bill saw no possible remedy for the situation. I own the place. Any debt that accrues—to the landlord, to the water company, to the state—is my debt. I couldn't see it going on ad infinitum where we'd be forced to close. Therefore, I let him go and stepped in as captain of the ship to try to prevent it from sinking.

As I said before, nobody's happy in a situation like that. I've known Bill for many years, he had the loyalty of many employees. It was a tumultuous turn of events but one that I believed could not be avoided.


Do you have a lot longer on your lease and would you say that your standing, in terms of the physical space, is safe for now or at least the foreseeable future? We have some time left on the lease, not a lot of time. We've always been on a relatively short lease, I don't know why. This landlord, and the previous landlord, it's always been three to five year leases. I'd rather not get into the exact details, however, despite the fact that I owe the landlord some back rent—I'll be up front about that—he has told me that he wants us to stay as long as possible. There are no indications from him that he wants us out; quite to the contrary. We have a good relationship, he's a good guy. I don't foresee any trouble on that front.

Seems unique to landlords in the area. The neighborhood is often looked at as a disappearing neighborhood. How does it feel to have your business held up as the last of a dying breed and characterized in that way? As I said before, we're under pressure to upgrade, to raise prices, make it fancier and everything else like other places in NoHo. But how does it feel? I think when I saw pictures and heard about what happened last Wednesday night, when people feared it was the last night...I think that perhaps there's something to being kind of a bit of a Southern roadhouse in the middle of fancy NoHo. If and when we do make subtle changes over the coming months and years it's going to be with that strongly in mind. I'm not planning on turning into some five star, $100 a plate French restaurant. It's just not going to happen.