When Veselka first opened on the corner of 2nd Avenue and East 9th Street in 1954, the business was a small candy shop and newspaper stand. Sixty-years later, and the Ukrainian restaurant serves up 21,000 pierogis, 2,500 latkes, and 110 gallons of borscht each week. That is until the pandemic hit. In September, owner Tom Birchard spoke about how the restaurant was struggling. But thanks to a dedicated customer base filling its heated sidewalk seating and indoor tables, as well as a growing delivery and national shipping arm, Veselka is expanding to the space next door, as was first reported by EV Grieve. The addition will be complete with a new “sushi bar-style counter that will showcase the restaurant’s pierogi-making process,” according to the New York Times.
After closing in March, Veselka reopened for takeout and delivery at the end of April, and both their main location and their secondary spot in the Market Line food hall are open for outdoor dining. But like so many others across the city, the 66-year-old Ukrainian restaurant is struggling without indoor dining. In a video interview with photographers James and Karla Murray, second-generation co-owner Tom Birchard said, “We need to have more tables than we have right now to survive long-term.”
Treat yourself this Friday to a meal of pierogis followed by cheesecake. East Village icons Veselka and Veniero’s Pasticceria & Caffe, the Ukrainian restaurant that started in 1954 and the Italian bakery that opened in 1894 respectively, will both reopen for takeout and delivery on May 1. Eater spotted the news on Veniero’s Instagram that the bakery will reopen for takeout, delivery, and curbside pickup. Likewise, Veselka posted on their Instagram that they will open for takeout and delivery.
All photos taken by James and Karla Murray exclusively for 6sqft
21,000 pierogis, 2,500 latkes, and 110 gallons of borscht–that’s how much Veselka is serving up each week. But it’s impossible to quantify how many memories have been made at the famous East Village Ukrainian restaurant, which has been in operation since 1954. Whether it’s grandparents who remember going to what was then a small candy shop and newspaper stand at a time when the East Village was a thriving Eastern European community, or counter-culture icons of the 1970s, or club kids of the ’90s, or the NYU students of today, you can bet that nearly every New Yorker has some story of enjoying a meal at Veselka.
6sqft recently got a behind-the-scenes tour of Veselka’s kitchen to see how the magic happens, in addition to chatting with third-generation owner Jason Birchard. Ahead, check out all the photos and learn about the history of Veselka.
When we point the finger at gentrifying neighborhoods, the East Village often gets a lot of heat thanks to its quickly climbing rents, shift from a more diverse population (today, roughly 40 percent of the ‘hood is between the ages of 20 and 34), and loss of small businesses. And though this final fact is certainly true, especially as it pertains to eateries (just this past year we said goodbye to Angelica Kitchen, The Redhead, and Lanza’s), the East Vill still has a wealth of independent restaurants that pay homage to its rich immigrant history as well as a crop of new establishments that are sensitive to the community and represent the new wave of foodie culture.
This weekend, two events will explore the past and future of the East Village through its food establishments–a walking tour led by 6sqft’s Senior Editor Dana Schulz for GVSHP will take you through the Italian, Ukrainian/Eastern European, and Indian history and A Taste of 7th Street will offer a self-guided chance to taste samplings from 10 local favorites.
In 6sqft’s fun new series A New York Minute we ask influential New Yorkers spitfire (and sometimes very random) questions about their life in the big city. Want to nominate yourself or someone you know? Get in touch!
In 1965, Tom Birchard was busy studying business administration at Rutgers University when he met Marta, daughter of Wolodymyr Darmochwal, at a fraternity party. Her father owned the Ukrainian restaurant Veselka at Second Avenue and Ninth Street in what was then a largely Easter European community. Tom and Marta married the following year, and ever since then Tom started working at the restaurant part time, helping it grow into the iconic establishment it is today, famous for its 24-hour pierogis and borscht.
Though he and Marta eventually separated (Tom is now married to Dr. Sally Haddock who owns St. Marks Veterinary Hospital), Tom took ownership of the business in 1975, and has since been at the helm, living in the East Village, which he describes as “young, funky, artsy.” Not only does he keep the Ukrainian spirit alive, but he’s active in the community, serving on the board of the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation and actively sponsoring local performance artists.