At the Tribeca Park Café, It’s Just Like the Old Days

Julia Pimentel/NYU

Outside the classic deli. (Julia Pimentel/NYU)

There are two aspects of New York City life that, on the surface, seem paradoxical: the sweeping concrete jungle and the communal aspect of the distinct neighborhoods. Whether it’s the upper west or east or downtown, neighborhoods seem to be defined by their local food spots. Unassuming neighborhood joints like delis and bodegas – those institutions that have been around forever but have a healthy cult following – are integral to the city’s identity. The triangular intersection of busy streets surrounding Tribeca Park is home to one such deli: The Tribeca Park Cafe. Just off the M train Canal Street stop, the café is a familiar New York City scene. It boasts an extensive menu of typical deli food – bacon, egg, cheese, milk, juice – but the customers who come here appreciate it for what it has come to represent: efficiency, tradition, and quality.

Said Sama Abdalla, the owner of the deli, is originally from Egypt but has owned the deli since 1985. “In the 80s, this neighborhood was mostly warehouses. Back at that time, at around maybe 3 o’clock in the afternoon, the streets would be very empty,” Said reminisces. “But then in the 90s, developers came with ideas to convert it all to… condominiums and since then… the neighborhood changed to a residential neighborhood. I had never seen before strollers and children but now we see families and kids, people with dogs. So it became a really nice neighborhood.” Tribeca, close to Chinatown and Little Italy, is not a historic neighborhood and therefore does not have defined limits, but its recognizably small restaurants and cafés definitely evoke a New York City air of trendiness. It’s no wonder Taylor Swift chose to move to just this neighborhood last year.

Said has worked in every part of the restaurant business: from cashier, to the kitchen, and now management. When he came to the store in 1985, the store was not doing well. He had just finished his Accounting and Business degree from Cairo, Egypt, and came to New York “for the American dream.” “In the beginning, it was so hard. I was working long hours after close and doing repairs and cooking for the next day. I didn’t have a lot of money,” Said says. “My only job is to make sure the most number of customers walk out happy with the service and the quality of the food that I’m offering.” After 30 years working in this corner of Tribeca, he’s the sole original partner (there were three) remaining and has five kids, four of whom are in college

Julie Matsumoto, a designer who lives in the area, says she’s gone to this deli since she moved here 15 years ago and brands it a “great resource for the neighborhood.” When asked about the deli, Matsumoto sighs and compares it to other businesses in the area. “Across the street is the Grandaisy Bakery… they have the fancy breads and lattes, and you’ll never see one of those guys with their working blues over at Grandaisy. The thing that the deli provides is that great, unfussy, fast service,” she says. “It’s been a constant. They haven’t changed. It’s just such a nice thing. Those things are so rare… Not everybody needs another fancy restaurant or Starbucks.”

How much space the city has for delis like this is an interesting question. “There’s a Starbucks across the street and one a couple of blocks down the road. That was a challenge, but thankfully I am still selling the same amount of coffee that I used to sell before Starbucks moved here,” Said says. “Maybe we service a slice of the community that like this coffee or like this style.”

Matsumoto is the head of Friends of Tribeca Park, a community-led project that maintains the small park – essentially a traffic island between 6th Avenue, West Broadway and Beach Street – directly in front of the deli. In collaboration with the city, Friends of Tribeca Park won a million dollar renovation that saw it change from what Matsumoto describes as a “barren landscape of cobbled stones and homeless people [and] broken glass” into the leafy breath of fresh air that it is today.

Julia Pimentel/NYU

If you’re interested, the story of this lost kitten is explored further by Julia Pimentel and Rowena Henley here.

Recently, Matsumoto and two other friends from the area met in the park but were quickly distracted by a startled kitten hiding in the bushes. The trio attempted to catch the cat, but it was predictably skittish and scared of humans, even though it was not feral and could only have been there a few hours. After several unsuccessful attempts, Matsumoto enlisted Said’s help, and he gave her “a piece of grilled chicken, free of charge,” as she put it. The kitten was captured and they are now attempting to find it a loving home. “We have mercy for mankind,” Said said, and therefore “we should [also] have mercy for animals.”

“Anyone who comes here asking for food and doesn’t have money, I usually give it,” Said says. “Sometimes I see people looking for food in the garbage and I go out and give it to them.” His workers have permission to do the same. Animals, he adds, are no different.

Certainly, the style of the Tribeca Park Cafe is not hard to like. Due in part to its simplicity, it is an institution in its neighborhood for its ability to offer quality food in an unpretentious, classic setting. In a large, busy city like this one, a sense of community and a friendly face can sometimes be hard to come by. This deli provides both.

Julia Pimentel/NYU

Lots of options to choose from… (Julia Pimentel/NYU)

About author

Julia Pimentel
Julia Pimentel 2 posts

Student. Writer. Brazilian (via London, South Africa, India, Canada and the US). Dog enthusiast. // juliapimentel.com

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