Business Owners Say They Use Artistic Skills to Run Restaurants, Galleries, and Boutiques
New ventures owned or operated by Pratt alumni are springing up along Myrtle Avenue, the once blighted thoroughfare that has turned into a trendy commercial hub, thanks in large part to the efforts of the Myrtle Avenue Revitalization Project to clean up the area and attract new businesses. The Prattstore and Myrtle Hall attest to the Institute’s official presence, but stylish restaurants, boutiques, and galleries owned or operated by Pratt grads extend the Institute’s dynamic, creative culture into the life of the community. Here are five such places in order of their opening on Myrtle Avenue.
"Before we opened Luz in 2005, the only restaurant experience we had was ‘check please,’” says Pedro Munoz (B. Arch. ’99) who, with his wife Vivian I. Torres (B. Arch. ’98), invested several years’ savings into the venture. “But Luz Restaurant did better than we thought, so we opened Cienega last year, and it was voted ‘Best of Westchester’ for 2011. We both love food and realized there was a market for Latin American cooking.”
Located just off Myrtle Avenue at 177 Vanderbilt, Luz is situated in a former carriage house-cum-garage that Munoz and Torres transformed into a sleek Nuevo Latino venue. Luz has brought Cuban cuisine and a congenial style of service to Clinton Hill.
“Our Pratt training gave us the freedom to design and build our restaurants the way we wanted them,” says Torres, who is also an architect in private practice and senior designer at Ted Moudis Associates. “It’s such a great feeling to put your education to use. We’re proud to be Pratt alumni and happy to be in Brooklyn.”
“When I first moved to this area to attend Pratt, art school students and professionals were not only looking for functional items or services, but also for places where they could satisfy their aesthetic considerations, which not many could do,” recalls JuYoung Oh (M.S. Arch. Interior Design ’09). “I felt there was a need to open a boutique-style store, which carried a range of interesting and well-designed items and services, since I also needed such things.”
During her second semester at Pratt, in 2007, Oh opened Barking Brown at 468 Myrtle Avenue; it was her first U.S. business. Byme Brooklyn Café and Boutique at 519 Myrtle Avenue followed in 2009. (Her third venture, 232 Korean Restaurant and Bar, opened at Taaffe Place in Bedford-Stuyvesant in January 2011.) Oh worked as the interior designer for all three projects, experiencing the entire process from both the client and designer side. “It was sometimes frustrating to be caught in between,” she muses, and credits Pratt with teaching her “to find the most appropriate solution in a balanced way, without compromising myself.” Though she oversees the three businesses herself, Oh still finds time for freelance work.
“I wanted a place where I could expose artists to the public and thought this would be more fun than a coffee bar,” says Pratt alumna and artist Gina Jankowski (B.F.A. Fine Arts ’05), the co-owner, manager, and art curator of The Emerson, a bar and art gallery named for its location near Emerson Place and for poet Ralph Waldo, whose famous quotation “Every artist was first an amateur” influences the artistic spirit of the place. The poet’s ceramic bust occupies a place of honor atop a vintage jukebox, across from a glowing red bar.
So far, Pratt alumni are the only artists whose work Jankowski has displayed in two-month solo exhibitions. “The first show sold six works,” she recalls, “and the only show that didn’t sell still got the artist a commission.”
Billed as Clinton’s Hill’s “transcendent lounge,” The Emerson opened at 561 Myrtle Avenue in 2010 and caught on quickly, its bright red doors open until 4 AM on weekends. A pool table, art-covered walls, and leather banquettes contribute to the clubby atmosphere.
“This isn’t a Chelsea gallery,” says Joshua Stulman (M.F.A. Painting ’10). “But it should be a good starting point for emerging artists in Brooklyn.” Stulman is curator and manager of Hadas Gallery, a non-profit educational and cultural organization established in January 2011 under the aegis of the Rohr Jewish Student Center at Pratt. A painter and illustrator himself, Stulman oversees rotating exhibitions at the gallery’s 541 Myrtle Avenue location across from the Prattstore. Hadas Gallery is open to the public and hosts workshops, artist lectures, and cultural events. A benefit exhibition of donated artworks reflecting the diversity of Brooklyn starts on Friday, November 18 and culminates in a silent auction on Sunday, December 11.
“I spent a lot of time in this neighborhood,” says Vadim Kiyaev (B.F.A. Digital Arts ’09), “and thought this kind of place would be a good idea.” Growing up in Tashkent, Russia (now Uzbekistan), Kiyaev dreamed of some day running a café. With his earnings from making television commercials as a freelance computer animator, Kiyaev opened Pushkin Creperie Bakery at 541 Myrtle Avenue in July 2011 after designing and building its furnishings and graphics himself. In naming his business, Kiyaev was inspired by the Pratt cannon—“pushka” in Russian—that he associated with the novelist/poet Alexander Pushkin, one of Russia’s greatest national geniuses. Kiyaev added “creperie” as a reminder of the French influence on Russian culture in Pushkin’s time. He added “bakery” as a compliment to his sister’s culinary expertise. Located across the street from Myrtle Hall, Pushkin entices Pratt students, faculty, and staff alike with hot-from-the-oven cookies, crêpes in many varieties, and truly remarkable coffee.
Text: Adrienne Gyongy
Photos: Luz: Raine Manley Robertson (Photography ’12); Barking Brown: Jonathan Weitz; The Emerson, Hadas Gallery, and Pushkin: Yael Malka (Photography ’12)