BY BONNIE ROSENSTOCK | Joey Aponte was 13 when he, his mother and two brothers moved away from the Vladeck Houses on Madison Street on the Lower East Side. But he always knew he would return to the community. A little more three years ago, he inaugurated his dream restaurant, The Cabin NYC, at 205 E. Fourth Street between Avenues A and B. He felt at home.
Over the years Aponte had variously worked as a dishwasher, bartender and restaurant manager and opened up a lot of restaurants for other people around the country. He even had a nightclub in Midtown. But he always remembered his roots.
“This is the first time I am creating for myself and my family,” he said. “There’s no better place to open up a business than on the Lower East Side.”
In the 1980s, the Lower East Side was “really bad,” Aponte recalled, “and the schools were worse. It wasn’t about teaching. It was about keeping order, going through metal detectors, bullying and teachers as babysitters.”
His mother, Rosa Aponte, worked three jobs to take her sons out of the beleaguered ’hood. She was working full time as a housekeeper at Gouverneur Hospital on Madison Street the first time she was turned down for a bank loan. Undeterred, she took on a second job cleaning banks nearby. She was turned down again. So during her remaining waking moments, she cleaned private homes.
“We kids were raising ourselves at this point,” Aponte recalled. “The Boys Club on East 10th Street was like our daycare.”
In 1995, Rosa finally got that loan approved and moved her sons to a house in Bellport, on the South Shore of Long Island, an area of the rich and famous, but “with a diverse part, too,” Aponte noted. “She’s my superhero. She tried to give us a better opportunity.”
In 2008, Rosa retired from Gouverneur after 30 years of service. Now 74, she still returns to the neighborhood to attend St. Mary’s Church on Grand Street.
As a Latino kid from the Lower East Side — his father, who is out of the picture, is Puerto Rican; his mother is Peruvian — Aponte was so far behind in his new school that they put him in a bilingual class.
“It was tough going from the ’hood to Bellport,” he recalled. “The culture on the Lower East Side was to get a graffiti haircut, so I had my name on my head. In Bellport I was a thug.”
But nothing says popularity and acceptance like being a star athlete. In high school he was a running back, with a Hall of Fame coach. He became an all-American in lacrosse and played pro for a year. He went to a junior college in Maryland and graduated from Farmingdale State College on Long Island, having studied security systems and psychology.
“I went from barely graduating high school and being the last in my class to being successful now,” he said.
Aponte, 40, describes The Cabin NYC as “an elegant place made for adults 25 and older.” It gets high marks on Yelp as an East Village go-to destination. “This is the place to come for dinner, cocktails or as an after-dinner spot,” he said.
The restaurant comfortably seats about 40 inside, with leather banquettes that hug the perimeter, and another 20 seats in the outdoor yard. (There’s also a two-person wicker chair in an alcove for more intimate conversations.) The rustic décor features three towering birch trees, made from natural wood, that rise out of the floor; Aponte sought out the company that worked for his inspiration, Walt Disney. Faux lavender flowers cascade down wood-paneled walls and poles and from ceilings. (Summer will feature red, pink and white flowers.) Paintings by Isabelle Favette, “Biggie Bear” and “2pacFox,” named after the rappers, adorn the walls.
Aponte’s younger brother, Dennis, 34, is the place’s head chef. Although he didn’t have formal schooling in the culinary arts, he was mentored by celebrity chef Jordan Andino, who is of Filipino heritage. Dave, 44, Aponte’s other brother, is a bank manager in North Carolina, but his daughter Ivy Lynn, 22, helps out in the kitchen and hosts.
“The Cabin is a place where people can explore themselves,” Dennis said, referring to his own mentoring of promising young people. “I am able to teach the art of cooking here. We look for people everywhere — by talking to them, whether in a Starbucks or on the street. I bring them on, see how they excel, see how much we can bring together flavors and cooking.”
Bartenders also receive the same guidance.
“We teach them how to make our specialty cocktails,” Joey said. “I don’t hire them for what they know, but for their work ethic and how they are as a person.”
All the food is natural, fresh and made from scratch.
“My meat comes from a farm in Pennsylvania,” Dennis said. “We prep everything on a daily basis. Every Monday, the bartenders rotate to crush the ginger, which takes 10 hours, and to make the various syrups. We’re not serving the same Coors or Bud Light like everyone else.”
Specialties include fried Brussels sprouts, Amish fried chicken, bison and ricotta meatballs with pomodoro sauce that takes eight hours to make, and the Jammin’ Bacon Cheeseburger, with ground marinated bison and bacon from Spain. A fav dessert is s’mores with chocolate ganache, marshmallow creme and molasses.
Joey is gearing up to open another restaurant, Clock Out NYC, at 191 Orchard St., with a different menu and focus.
“I want to change the décor every month,” he said. “It will be made for you to live in the moment.”
During the darkest days of the pandemic, Joey helped feed those slammed by food insecurity in the East Village and Lower East Side. He teamed up with LES designer/entrepreneur Freaky Fridge to give out turkeys every year. At first it was out of pocket, but then organizations paid for it.
“I made a lot of meals for the homeless, about 5,000 over the past few years,” Joey said. “I go to the homeless shelters, Tompkins Square Park, the park next to the housing project where I grew up, Henry Street Settlement. I put up posters. Also, across the street from the restaurant, I put out a table for about three years.
“My lifelong goal,” he said, “is to help out this neighborhood as much as possible. I help humanity no matter who they are. My mother raised me this way.”
It’s funny to me that there are always so many complaints in these parts about oversaturation of liquor licenses, and complaints about how Community Board 3 let them proliferate. But here CB3 denied the new application because of a long history of bad conduct, including the State Liquor Authority revoking a prior license, and none of that is mentioned. Just funny, I guess.
LES3025: Are you saying that this restaurant was denied a new application for a liquor license? The article has quotes about cocktails being served at the joint.
The Cabin has a license. CB3 recommended denial for the new Clock Out establishment at 191 Orchard that is also mentioned (CBs don’t actually approve or deny, just make recommendations to the SLA, so my initial comment was a bit imprecise).
I actually misread the CB3 resolution when I posted before (https://www1.nyc.gov/assets/manhattancb3/downloads/minutes/2022/minutes2022-03.pdf). The previous venue at 191 Orchard, 6th Ward, had its license revoked. But I don’t think these people were involved. The bad conduct on their part was at The Cabin, where neighbors said they illegally used the back yard for parties, had live music when not permitted, and otherwise operated outside of their license stipulations.
I personally don’t care if they get a license or not. I’m generally fine with nightlife in the area and I don’t attach a lot of value to anything CBs do. I just think it’s conspicuous and notable that this article ignores all of that to put an overwhelmingly positive spin on what’s actually a pretty contentious neighborhood issue.
The Cabin does not have loud parties in the back. Where do you get such ideas? All based on misinformation. The culprits are the buildings next door, which has use of the extended backyard. The three buildings to the left of The Cabin all share this backyard. The buildings are owned by Jared Kushner’s company. Massive parties of underage drinkers. The Cabin has a liquor license and has never been involved in misconduct. Their new restaurant, which they hope to open on Orchard Street, is a raw space, and they have never been here before, so obviously rumors, innuendos and misinformation are rampant. Facts please.
And it is not an “advertorial.” The Cabin wants to be a good neighbor, and they deserve the positive publicity to counteract all the garbage said about them (viz, all the comments).
All I know is what it says in the CB3 resolution. Like I said, I don’t put a lot of stock in what CBs do, and I am aware that anti-bar/restaurant neighbors and block associations often exaggerate their complaints. But the CB resolution has some pretty direct statements that seem like they would be part of an objective story:
“the committee received several emails about The Cabin Bar describing illegal parties in the backyard, which is not zoned for commercial use, including ‘cigar parties’ that caused noise and air issues for residents in proximity, and there were 11 311 complaints at The Cabin Bar with NYPD action necessary since 2018”
“the applicant has shown himself to be a bad neighbor and unwilling to work with Community Board 3 to mitigate the conditions causing complaints coming from operating beyond its legal stipulations”
“a representative from the LES Dwellers sent a letter in opposition to the application … stating that the applicant is operating outside his stipulations at The Cabin Bar”
“a representative from the East 4th Street Lower Avenue B Block Association spoke in opposition to this application noting that the block association had met with the applicant, who agreed not to have live music with the SLA and with the block association but has had live music anyway, and also that the applicant has broken other stipulations including allowing crowds on the sidewalk impeding pedestrian egress and using the backyard”
It seems like you have your own views about The Cabin and the new application. Are you a friend of the Apontes?
Yes, too often articles on new restaurants and gourmet spots gush like press releases or “advertorial,” taking everything an owner says at face value. Obviously, reporters are supposed to be more detached and provide balanced coverage.
If this was published in Eater or Infatuation or somewhere like that I would agree with you. But this is more about the operators and only mentions the new restaurant in passing, and it’s being published in a newspaper that is typically editorially sympathetic to community boards and neighborhood groups that oppose new liquor licenses. My belief is that this article is part of an active PR effort by the Apontes aimed at lobbying the SLA to grant their new license over the objection of the community board. When they go in front of the SLA they can point to it and say, “Look, all our good deeds were covered by the local press, the community board just had it in for us.”
The article should have mentioned the issues you cite that are important in the community. The reporter pictures the Apontes as a virtuous, hard-working family that helps the homeless. There are no backup quotes from other sources to confirm that. Who knows how this story originated? I don’t think it’s fair to speculate on motives.
I hear you, but I think it’s pretty fair and reasonable to speculate about the origins and motives of any media story. Stories don’t just appear out of thin air. A reporter might have an interest in it for some reason. Or an interested party might provide a reporter with a scoop or an offer of an exclusive interview in order to get a story out there. Asking questions about a story’s provenance is important, especially when the story is unusual or clearly benefits someone, as this one is and does.