We Have the ‘Scoop!’ – West Side Rag
By Ed Hersh
Just in time for summer, the shuttered Big Gay Ice Cream shop on Columbus Avenue and 85th Street is about to reopen with a new lease on life, and the Amsterdam Avenue mainstay Fred’s has a new owner.
Both have been taken over by veteran West Side restaurateur and UWS resident Jeremy Wladis, who already owns and operates the popular “Good Enough to Eat”, “Harvest Kitchen”, and the recently opened “Nina’s Burrito Bar.”
Friendly and gregarious, Wladis recalled that, from his perch at Good Enough To Eat on the opposite corner from Big Gay Ice Cream, “I would sit there watching them, and frankly I was jealous” of their long lines of customers waiting to buy ice-cream.
“When the place went vacant I went to the landlord,” he said. He also contacted the original owners, who are still in business at the South Street Seaport, to see if he could license the name and their products.
It finally came together; workers are currently getting things ready and being trained, and Wladis says it will open “this weekend” once again as Big Gay Ice Cream, with the same ice cream and format, but with additional items, like hot chocolate, tea, pastries and donuts, and some vegan choices.
In what may be an ironic “twist,” Wladis is no stranger to serving up ice cream; he told us that one of his first food ventures out of college was opening a fish-fry and ice cream stand in his native Syracuse, before moving to NYC. “It’s a gamble,” he said of taking over the store, but with summer upon us as well as a labor pool of teens looking for summer jobs, “I think it couldn’t be a better time to try.”
As for Fred’s, a mutual friend approached him and told him that its affable owner, David Honor, was grappling with health issues involving himself and his family and was looking to sell the business. He and Honor came to an agreement, and Wladis has purchased Fred’s.
He says unequivocally that “nothing will change.” Long-time patrons will be relieved to know that includes the menu and the decor, and he is keeping the same staff while installing one of his senior managers from Good Enough To Eat to oversee operations.
Wladis is in regular contact with Honor, and says he’s told him that he wants him to return to Fred’s when he feels well enough to do so. “He’s a great guy, he’s getting better and I really hope he takes me up on my offer to come back,” Wladis says.
Wladis is also known for, at times, changing his restaurants’ names, concepts and menus when they’re not working. Firehouse Tavern begat Brad’s Burgers begat Zen Taco, then a sushi place which became the current and now-very-successful Nina’s Burrito Bar; he says there’s a reason. “Given the rent in New York, if it doesn’t work, change it quick!”
Wladis also owns restaurants in Washington, D.C. and Charlotte, North Carolina, but the long-time Upper West Sider says this neighborhood is not just a place to do business. “It’s where I eat, drink and sleep,” he says.