Frajee’s Opens on Lark Street – What’s Next?

Editor’s note: There’s a lot of Lark Street news these days, which is great! Sometimes referred to as the “Greenwich Village” of Albany, the stretch from State Street to Washington Avenue has seen its ups and downs over the years, as contributor Colleen Ryan points out below.

Hopefully, these recent developments indicate the street is in an upward cycle – and if the development gods are smiling on us, long may that last. Amen. – L

Tulips, chrysanthemums and a “who’s who” of local officials attended the ribbon cutting ceremony this week at Frajee’s Grill, 189 Lark St. Owners Ibraheem and Wael Faraj came to Albany from Syria as refugees in 2013. Now they’re bringing the hospitality and culinary traditions of their home country to the street where, according to Albany Mayor Kathy Sheehan, “business owners come to fulfill their dreams.”

The announcement prepared by the Lark Street Business Improvement District (BID) says:

Frajee’s Grill, a new Mediterranean restaurant with a focus on fresh, locally sourced ingredients opened in July … (The) menu is inspired by the flavors and spices used in authentic Mediterranean recipes,” and uses ingredients sourced from local farms.

The storefront, nestled between Jewel of India and the Imperial Market, has seen several businesses come and go.

It was Ikes’ Pizzeria in 2008; Romeo’s Pizza for several years; one of those sketchy cell phone shops that painted the exterior neon green in 2016; and My Dacha Slavonian European Café was open in the summer of 2017 but closed the following year. The Dacha’s interior featured brick walls painted dark red and terra cotta vinyl floor tiles. The shop has been completely overhauled for its latest iteration.

The exterior brick is painted light brown and a crisp orange sign with white and black lettering hangs above the entrance. Inside, it’s bright and airy, with silvery whitewashed floor planking and ivory, grey and white geometric wallpaper above a white wainscot.

A natural-wood pergola runs the depth of the dining room’s ceiling, wrapped in faux ivy vines, evoking the atmosphere of the owners’ home country. The room is well-lit without feeling harsh, and large menu-board monitors add to the modern, clean feel.

The menu hedges its bets with familiar standards like pizza, pasta, burgers and chicken wings, but then branches out with rice bowls, wraps – chicken and lamb shawarma and gyros – and Mediterranean sides like baba ganoush, hummus, falafel and stuffed grape leaves. There’s a short dessert menu, and delivery is available through GrubHub.

With this latest addition, Lark Street seems to be continuing its upswing, with several new shops and restaurants filling previously dark storefronts. Unfortunately, three anchor locations – the gateways to Lark Street – remain vacant, though word on the street is this may change soon, and we – of course! – will report back on any and all new developments.

– 423 Madison Ave. The Larson Building.

A fire decades ago had truncated the historic building at the corner of Lark and Madison to one story – most recently serving as an Indian restaurant. New owners demolished that structure and built a 3-story, mixed-use structure with 6 “luxury apartment” units and a street level retail space. Completed in April 2016, only one of the 6 units is currently available for rent (a 1 bedroom for $1,250/month) but the retail use has never materialized.

– 196 Washington Ave. The former KeyBank.

This 12,000-square-foot property sold in late 2018 for $1.05 million. The 3,800+ square foot first floor commercial space is available for lease. NAI Platform has the listing at $15.00 / SF plus utilities and janitorial – so about $5,000 a month.

– 202 Washington Ave. A former Subway sandwich shop.

A handsome building with a corner entrance, 202 Washington was built in 1880 and served for many years as Branche’s Drugstore. In the 1980s it had a groovy mural on the side. Before Subway, it was the “Corner Food Court.” Now owned by Constance M. Goussis of Loudonville, the city’s total valuation of the property is $450,000 (land value $35,500.) The number listed for inquiries on leasing is 518-522-7147 but the call goes to a no-name voicemail account.

In addition to these corner locations, several other significant addresses remain vacant (former Larkin at 199 Lark; McGuire’s at 353 State) plus smaller storefronts like Sam’s Home Cooking at 222 Lark. What kind of business owners do you think should come and fulfill their dreams on Lark Street? Please comment below!

Colleen M. Ryan has always been a storyteller. An innovative communications professional with experience in government, nonprofit and business sectors, she recently launched CMR Communications.

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1 Comment

  1. Bryan Marcou-O'Malley

    Lark needs traditional stores. I’m glad to see the addition of Frajee’s, and Lark Hall will provide a real boost to the street; however, more than restaurants and bars is needed. When Lark thrives, there is a healthy mix of businesses, so folks can come shop on the street and then grab a bite, maybe go out for a drink, and potentially see what is happening at Lark Hall or one of the venues downtown (TU Center, Palace, The Egg, more).

    The stores on Lark that succeed are different, not things you can get in the ‘Burbs or the mall. Traditionally, when those stores have tried to go to these venues, what were successful stores have failed. Creative folks with retail ideas specifically tailored to an urban environment need to be courted.

    Oh, and the Corner Shop, former Subway, would make an excellent, long-term, Farmer’s Market where farmers could maintain a permanent presence at kiosks.

    Reply

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