Give Me a Challah
Profiles in Development
Last Friday night, a group of 20-something foodies gathered to celebrate Shabbat. Well, maybe not “celebrate” in the traditional sense of prayers and candles, but a Sabbath meal all the same. In the back of a thrift store on the corner of Prince and Mott Streets, two long wooden tables had been erected for a family-style eating experience among the displays of distressed jeans and vintage belts.
Several times a week, the store is turned from a Soho boutique into City Grit, a “culinary salon” founded in 2011 by Sarah Simmons, an emerging chef recently named one of “America’s Greatest New Cooks” by Food & Wine magazine. Ms. Simmons was standing in front of a comfortably packed room, explaining the genesis of her “Southern Shabbat” dinner, which we’d soon be tucking into.
The members of the Upper West Side’s Carlebach Shul had nearly polished off their halibut and grilled squash when the band struck up “Killing me Softly,” and Roberta Flack took the stage inside the St. Regis ballroom. Ms. Flack, clad in a rustling black gown, leaned in close to the microphone, and, to the great disappointment of many guests, launched into a speech rather than her famous song.
“I’m here to honor a special friend of mine. Someone I’ve known more than a year—a couple of years—and who is very dear to me,” were the opening lines of a brief address that ended with Ms. Flack handing a large hunk of engraved glass to Michael Bolla, whom the synagogue was honoring as “the force behind the recent and much publicized Jewish revitalization of the Lower East Side.”
Ms. Flack vanished almost immediately, but Mr. Bolla remained until almost midnight, basking in the praises of his fellow congregants.
Shouldering the burden of the Lower East Side’s salvation is a far cry from Mr. Bolla’s last project, which saw the 44-year-old real estate broker and developer restoring antique Czechoslovakian crystal chandeliers and Italian plaster ceiling medallions at a mansion in Chelsea.