A Taste of Brand New Dekalb Restaurant and a Chat With the Owners
All photos by Hannah Palmer Egan The dining room glows at Dekalb Restaurant in Bedford-Stuyvesant.
Most restaurant-owners don't break into song midway through an interview, but then, most restaurants don't have a guitar stashed in the corner. Most restaurants also lack an owner who's played with most of the Wailers, or whose grandfather schooled the Skatelites in Ska before Ska was a thing. But Dekalb Restaurant (564 Dekalb Avenue, Brooklyn, 347-857-7097, dekalbrestaurant.com) is not most restaurants.
Opened in late January by a rag-tag team of artists, musicians, and long-established New York food people, Dekalb sits on the ground floor of an old linen factory/laundry on its namesake street, just off Bedford Avenue in Bed-Stuy. Co-owners Ras Levi and Stefan Fahrer, among many others, spent the last nine months painstakingly reassembling discarded bits of Gotham into a lush, beautiful space that warms as it welcomes you.
The parquet floors came from a 77th Street mansion; the dining room walls and ceiling, from Pilgrim mental hospital in Long Island; and the seats are upcycled pews from some unnamed church, still numbered with tarnished brass plaques. There are iron bars from nineteenth-century fire escapes and below-bar coat hooks from an old butcher shop.
And though each piece has its own story, it all came from Evan Blum, an old Fahrer family friend, who happens to run Demolition Depot (216 E 125th Street, 212-860-1138, demolitiondepot.com), a reclaimed materials warehouse uptown. When he walked into the space, Fahrer says, "I just thought, I want to do something [here]. I didn't care -- I was just going to take whatever was around me that could make sense and find a way to make it work, and just make it work."
"That's that spirit," Levi says. "That's like OK...This guy, we can do anything!" Laughter all around.
Stefan Fahrer grew up in the loose Manhattan of the 1980s and 1990s working parties for his dad's catering company (which employed folks like Anthony Bourdain and catered parties for Danny Meyer and the Village Voice) so food is in his blood, though he dabbled in business administration, real estate, and software development before finding his way back to food service.
Last year, team Dekalb built out a garden in an adjacent empty lot and held farmer's markets to meet the neighborhood: "We weren't making money [off last summer's markets]," says chef Alexander Skarlinski. "It was really about speaking to people and getting used to the farm, and it was a good way for me to know where to go." This summer, they plan to continue that and add live music (Levi's in charge of that), workshops and activities, and outdoor dining.
But what about the food, you ask? Read all about it on the next page.