A high end Upper East Side restaurant’s outdoor dining shed has become a menace on its block and needs to be torn down, frustrated neighbors pleaded to an Upper East Side community board committee meeting Tuesday night. The structure outside JoJo by Jean-Georges has turned into a homeless man’s hangout, where cooking food and even urinating and defecating has been seen inside, neighbors explained — but restaurant won’t give up the space willingly even though they don’t plan to use it again for several months.
“They’ve created a condition that has lowered the quality of life on our block by permitting homeless people to nightly sleep and even cooked in the shed,” explained neighbor Kenneth Laub, who lives across the street from the restaurant located at 160 East 64th Street, near Lexington Avenue.
“The shed is open to anyone and provides electricity is essentially made itself attractive for homeless people to essentially reside there,” Laub said.
Concerns about the shed came up during the meeting of Community Board 8’s Street Life Committee Tuesday night, when representatives for JoJo’s requested the committee’s recommendation for a corporate change to their existing liquor license, typically a non-controversial issue.
JoJo’s Upper East Side neighbors used Tuesday night’s meeting to air grievances that have been building for months.
“Many of our residents are away and not expected back for another week,” Laub explained, “I know from speaking with others, that they support my position and would be willing to sign a petition [to have the structure removed].”
“I can attest to the fact that there is a homeless gentleman living in [the shed], making use of the electricity,” said Anson Beard, another neighbor who calls East 64th Street home.
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“I have seen urine human defecation and that shed,” Beard continued, “The shed always has garbage on either side of it, including before I came back when I had to take this call.”
After the meeting late Tuesday night, Upper East Site visited the dining structure outside JoJo’s on East 64th Street to find exactly what neighbors had described. A homeless man’s two carts and belongings had been stored inside the structure after the restaurant’s closing, trash was strewn about on the street around the dining shed and rats were visibly scurrying around it.
While we did not see anyone occupying JoJo’s shed at that exact moment, there was a man angrily yelling — apparently at no one — inside the outdoor dining shed belonging to Le Pain Quotidien a block north at the corner of East 65th Street.
“We attempted to ask the individual not to come back and what we found is quite clever,” said Jean-Georges Executive Vice President of Operations Jeremy Mustakas.
“They learned our hours of operation and they know when we’re there. They arrived just after our teams finish up for the night and would leave in many cases just after our teams arrive,” Mustakas added.
The JoJo by Jean-Georges team said that over the last three months it has exhausted all efforts through the City to keep the homeless man out of their shed, telling the Community Board 8 Street Life Committee that police informed the restaurant that officers’ hands were tied when it comes to the outdoor dining structures.
“We were told that the outdoor dining spaces are not private party property and are not considered and are considered city property,” said Mustakas, adding that JoJo’s would finally be adding locking gates to the structure later this week to keep the homeless squatter out
“I find it is disingenuous that after three months of knowing this is happening, that this Thursday, JoJo’s is putting up gates,” said neighbor Joel Mindel, who also lives across the street from the restaurant.
Representatives for JoJo, where a plate of seared beef tenderloin with smooth parsnips, roasted Brussels sprouts and miso mustard costs $52, claims its business still has not recovered to pre-pandemic levels.
Mustakas explained that is why there is still a need for the outdoor dining structure — a paradoxical statement implying they need more space for fewer diners, while also mentioning that they wont be using the structure again until the spring.
“You know we’re not open for breakfast,“ Mustakas added, noting that the JoJo’s has not been open on Mondays and Tuesdays “for a long while.”
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Community Board 8 member Marco Tamayo pounced on the contradiction.
“To hear also that your restaurant does not open two days makes you think that you’re doing very well on business,” Tamayo told the restaurant representatives, “because those businesses that close, that means they have good income — otherwise they should be working every single day.”
Although representatives from JoJo’s stated that their outdoor dining shed is in compliance with all Department of Transportation regulations, the DOT told Upper East Site that the structure was found to be non-complaint a total of four times between September 4, 2022 and October 7, 2022.
Notices to correct the violations were issued, as well as a two termination orders, according to the DOT, which added inspectors would be sent to examine JoJo’s dining shed once again.
Ultimately, the Street Life Committee voted to approve a recommendation for JoJo’s corporate change with the stipulation that the restaurant must install a gate to keep homeless individuals out of their outdoor dining structure, clean up the dirty conditions and give neighbors a direct phone number to JoJo’s management. Residents had been calling for the dining shed to be torn down.
The recommendation now heads to a meeting of the full board for approval on January 18th at 6:30 pm. Residents unhappy with the committee’s decision can sound off during the public comment session by signing up here.
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