SCHENECTADY — Mangino’s Gourmet Market has closed.
The owners of the restaurant in the city’s Eastern Avenue neighborhood cited what they perceived as the heavy hand of the city’s Codes Department for the reason, pointing to disputes over a wheelchair ramp, among other alleged violations.
“You can only push a rock up a hill for so long,” said co-owner Bonnie Goodwin, who said the restaurant was virtually hammered by the city’s Code Department non-stop since they opened in row house she renovated with her partner, Rick Mangino, in April 2019.
They announced on Monday the past weekend would be their last.
Goodwin painted a portrait of being cited non-stop for alleged violations that culminated in a recent citation for their wheelchair ramp being too steep.
“When we made the large financial and time investment, we certainly expected the support in every way from the City and Code Enforcement,” read a Facebook post announcing the closure.
Goodwin said she was saddened while once watching a local youngster in a wheelchair resort to waiting outside of a bodega and asking people to buy things for him, and that Mangino’s was the only restaurant or business on the street which accommodated customers using wheelchairs and walkers.
Ultimately, the restaurant never obtained a permanent certificate of occupancy that was required to apply for a liquor license.
While Goodwin said she understands the difficult job of the city Codes Department, she also found it problematic that the city focused its bureaucratic cross hairs on those trying to better their neighborhood while not expressing the same level of attentiveness to cracking down on nearby decrepit properties.
And she felt citations were often punitive, and said there is no appeals process.
Goodwin and Mangino pointed at their investment and commitment to the community, teaming up with the SEAT Center to help young adults entering the restaurant business, as well as offering specials like $1 ice cream cones to neighborhood youngsters.
The experience has left them so disheartened they plan to sell the building, hopefully to a fellow restaurateur, and divest entirely from the community.
The couple also owns a handful of other row houses in various states of completion.
Reached Tuesday night, the city’s Chief Building Inspector Chris Lunn didn’t provide specific details on the exact citations issued by his office, but said while he welcomed the redevelopment of the neighborhood, the restaurant’s construction practices were “less than optimal.”
“We unfortunately had to place stop work orders on the property multiple times,” said Lunn, who characterized some of the citations as those issued for working outside of the scope of the permit, which was issued to rehabilitate an existing structure.
Lunn said the ramp to the first floor did not comply with state code regulations, and the owners were advised to file for a variance with the state.
He also noted what he characterized as “amateur” construction in an upstairs storage area that failed to comply with state fire code.
“I have no hard feelings or ill will to Mangino’s and wish them the best in future endeavors,” said Lunn, who expressed regret he never had a chance to sample their food.
Mayor Gary McCarthy referred to the restaurant as one operated by “good people who served good food.”
“But at the same time, the building needs to meet the building code,” McCarthy said. “There were just some issues they just could not get in place.”
Despite their experience, Goodwin and Baldwin hoped positive momentum will continue in the neighborhood, and praised continued investment by the Habitat for Humanity of Schenectady County, private investors and the Rochester-based Home Leasing.
The pair offered parting advice to McCarthy and the city Codes Department: “Help people who are helping this City,” Mangino’s wrote. “Investment is portable, so if you don’t want to lose small investors like us who fix buildings and employ (even a small number of people) help them, don’t be the brick wall they hit.”
They plan on re-opening as Mangino’s Fairway Grill at the Ballston Spa Country Club.