Petite Crevette and the yet-unnamed bar next door: 35 years of rebellious restaurant survival

May 17, 2024 Alice Gilbert 
Neil Ganic, owner of Petite Crevette, with signature hat. Photos by Alice Gilbert
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Petite Crevette, like its owner Neil Ganic, is a neighborhood mainstay, a part of the Brooklyn furniture. This tiny hole-in-the-wall, more New England seafood shack than Brooklyn food destination, has occupied its current storefront overlooking the BQE for the past 16 years. Before that, it was on Atlantic Avenue for another 20 as a fish market, where patrons could come and choose their cut of fish either to bring home or to have cooked for them. The interior at 144 Union Street, with the entrance on Hicks, features tables draped with plastic lobster-printed tablecloths, walls of photos showing Ganic with various hot-shots and celebrities (look closely and you’ll spot Johnny Cash), life buoys and lobster traps and a statue of a nude woman adorned with a backward baseball cap. I met with Ganic, who was sporting one of his signature hats before dinner service started at one of the lobster tablecloth-draped tables.

Menu featuring life buoy at Petite Crevette. Photo by Alice Gilbert
Menu featuring life buoy at Petite Crevette. Brooklyn Eagle Photo by Alice Gilbert

Starting a restaurant in New York City is notoriously risky. 80% of New York City restaurants close in their first five years. And this doesn’t account for the abundance of closures due to the pandemic. There’s no secret formula to keeping a restaurant open for 35 years, but clearly, Ganic is doing something right. Business, he told me, has been slow to get back on track after Covid. “It took a while to recoup,” he says. “Somehow, I survived. All of the funds that I have saved, I put into the business. Hopefully, I can come back to full capacity.” 

A corner table surrounded by pictures at Petite Crevette.
A corner table surrounded by pictures. Brooklyn Eagle Photo by Alice Gilbert

Putting in everything he has, financially and otherwise, seems to be the name of the survival game. Even back in the day, Ganic and his family were hustling to keep Petite Crevette afloat. “Some days, when I couldn’t afford a dishwasher, I would have to cook and wash the dishes at the same time. There was no money left, so my kids contributed whatever they could,” he says. 

Halfway through our conversation, just as I am beginning to feel that I’ve cracked the code on the age-old restaurant longevity question, we’re joined by his colleague, Mason Grassfield, who is the executive manager of the bar being rebuilt on the other side of Petite Crevette’s wall. Grassfield tells me that the bar, which does not yet have an official name, will be opening in the next few weeks. “The menu will be Spanish-inspired small plates, with a raw seafood section. We have a farm upstate in Kingston, NY, so we’re going to have a heavy seasonal produce section and a weekly farmers’ market that will be supplied by the farm. We’ll have staples to go along with this, like a hamburger and slow-roasted pork, and a full liquor license, with cocktails,” he tells me. 

Neil Ganic and Mason Grassfield. Photo courtesy of Mason Grassfield
Neil Ganic and Mason Grassfield. Photo courtesy of Mason Grassfield

The bar used to be called the Flying Lobster, named for the infamous incident in 2009 when Ganic allegedly threw a live lobster at a patron after the patron had sent his food back twice. A cheeky ode to the media attention Ganic received (he told Gothamist that he was proud of his response and would do it again), the Flying Lobster essentially served as Petite Crevette’s back room, with live music and wine. This time around, whether they keep the name the same or not — “I would like to keep the name,” says Ganic — the new bar sounds like it will stand on its own. 

For now, Ganic is hoping to survive the onslaught of his latest problem: city bureaucracy and the new rules for outdoor dining. “They don’t seem to have a plan. They just make our lives miserable,” he says of city representatives knocking on his door to enforce new regulations. If anyone can stand his ground, it’s Ganic. Like a lobster with a hard outer shell and the ability to survive over 100 years, he’s not going anywhere.

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