May 23, 2009

Ithaca's Longtime ABC Café to Close Next Month

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After serving vegetarian and traditional fare, as well as desserts and coffee, to the local community for nearly 30 years, the Apple Blossom Café, better known as the ABC Café, will close on June 21.

Ken Hallett, owner of the café that is located on Stewart Avenue, said that the business cannot afford the rent and received an eviction notice from its landlord.

“I have been doing this for 28 years and as the owner, I can’t do it anymore. I have to be the general manager and head chef at same time and run the business, so I need a change of pace,” Hallett said. “I tried to sell the business a few months back because the longtime lease was up in December, but we never completed the sale and it went into debt [that is] too much to climb out of.”

The café first opened its doors in January 1980, when Richard Genest and a partner wanted to create a community coffeehouse as a collective and as a gathering place with light food. Hallett, the café’s current owner, worked at a restaurant in downtown Ithaca and came to the café in October 1981 when it was still a collective. After it became a small partnership, Hallett bought it as the owner.

The specialties of the café include the nightly international dinner specials, such as Mexican Night, which Hallett has been running for about 25 years, and weekend brunches and desserts, many of which are vegan.

“We offer a unique quality and type of food, relaxed atmosphere, and space for art and live music. We would hate for the community to lose this asset,” he said. “We provided a venue for the community with natural food where people can express themselves artistically and be themselves.”

Hallett also commented that the feedback from customers about the impending closing reflects their love for the café.

“I come here often and love coming here for breakfast, vegetarian burgers and live music,” said Cathy Crane, a frequent patron of the café. “I am shocked and upset because it is as much an institution as the Ithaca Farmer’s Market here in the community.”

Hallett said that local bands play regularly at the café and will continue to do so for the planned, upcoming musical benefits. He wants to make sure that the last month is not a sad occasion, but a celebration. These events are only in the early phase of planning, but would hopefully bring in money to cover expenses before the café closes.

“If the right owner came in and wanted to keep it a nice place, I would gladly pass on the recipes and knowledge,” Hallett said. “We are hoping that a similar café will open afterwards, since this is kind of a funny location. Since we are away from foot traffic, have little parking, and are between Collegetown and Downtown Ithaca, a place like ABC would be better than a big corporate business.”

The composition of the restaurant’s patronage is split relatively equally between Ithaca residents and Cornell community members. In addition, the employees appreciate the close-knit community that the staff embodies. Robert Delphous, an employee at ABC Café, noted that since it opened in 1980, many Ithaca residents grow up with the café.

“Since it is closing on June 21, which is the Summer Solstice, it is a fitting time for a community like ours — not just those who work here, but for the entire Ithaca community in general, to have that particular date as a perfect time for change,” Delphous said.