It was 10:30 on a recent and particularly chilly Wednesday morning in Red Hook. Inside F & M Bagels, a cozy and plainly ornamented old-fashioned deli in the ground floor of a two-story brick building at the intersection of Van Brunt and Coffey streets, Eugene Orefice, a co-owner of the establishment, was taking time from his lunch-rush prep to talk about his business.
He recently lost one his best customers: The cast and crew of MTV’s iconic and outmoded reality show, The Real World, which was filming its 21st season in an abandoned house on Pier 41, just a few blocks south from Mr. Orefice’s deli.
Three or four days a week, a member of the cast or crew would come into the deli, place around a $150 lunch order and leave. Sometimes, someone from the show would come in and order three or four dozen bagels, which presumably don’t taste quite as good in Missouri, Pennsylvania or any of the far-away places the cast-members came from, as they do in Brooklyn. Mr. Orefice, 40, is not a fan nor a viewer of the show, but he eventually found who his new ace customers were through a crewmember. No cameras ever followed the cast into the deli, and Mr. Orefice got the sense that his new clients preferred to be left alone.
On this bone-chilling Wednesday morning, there were no metrosexual Mormons or transgender West Palm Beach natives ordering food, just a regular and unfashionable mix of construction workers, local residents and employees of the local Fairway, which is just a few blocks away. Business was brisk, but it’d be nice to have that Real World business back – the crew left the area in December.
"Yeah I miss them, I mean I’d miss any customer who spent $300 or $400 if they left," Mr. Orefice said.
Mr. Orefice grew up in Carroll Gardens, and although he now lives out in New Jersey, he still stays connected to his old neighborhood through his deli and the 17 apartments he owns around Carroll Gardens. Like his rental business, which is suffering from a lack of demand and increasingly price-sensitive renters, the business at the deli is slowing down.
With less construction going on around the neighborhood, there are fewer crews coming in for F & M’s well-regarded hot dishes and mammoth Philly cheese steaks. Around a year ago, the deli was still getting regular customers from the crews working at the Red Hook IKEA, but that business slowed to a trickle once the big-box store set up its own cafeteria.
"It’s O.K., because we are getting a lot more business from the local community," Mr. Orefice said. "There are a lot more young urban professionals eating here than there used to be."
To adjust to his new clientele Mr. Orefice, who co-owns the deli with his cousin Frank, added wraps and even some salads to the menu.
In the first week of December, Mr. Orefice got a call for a delivery to The Real World house. When he showed up, the cast was in the middle of the wrap party, celebrating the end of their Brooklyn tryst and partaking in a last-minute photo shoot. "The house was just nuts," Mr. Orefice said. "There was all of this new-wave construction, warped walls and a beach was set up outside.
"I would have loved to have them stay."