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‘Dine’ on the divine

for The Brooklyn Paper
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As the saying goes, “You’ve got to spend money to make money” — but can you lose money to make it?

That’s the question that Brooklyn restaurateurs are asking themselves as they get ready for 2007’s “Dine in Brooklyn,”

The four-year-old program, which goes from March 19 through 30, is spearheaded by Borough President Markowitz and will feature more than 150 restaurants, all serving three-course meals for $21.12 — a price that makes it impossible for many restaurants to turn a profit.

The River Cafe, which will only be serving lunch for the fixed price, clearly doesn’t need the attention, so that restaurant’s participation is mostly a civic gesture.

But other eateries need the exposure that comes from participating in the program. Thanks to Markowitz’s full-page ad in the New York Times, smaller businesses are getting customers in the door — even if it means losing money in the short term.

“Sure we’re taking a bit of a financial hit, but the exposure is worth it,” Ben Grossman, owner of the Smoke Joint in Fort Greene, told GO Brooklyn this week. “The idea is to get people to Brooklyn, people from other boroughs who otherwise wouldn’t come.”

Grossman admitted that the two-for-$21.12 price, which the Smoke Joint and a few others are offering, was a real hardship. “You couldn’t spend less at a fast food place,” he said, but promised a true Smoke Joint experience (same great food, though the portions will be a bit smaller).

From newcomers like Park Slope’s Alchemy to classics like Junior’s, all of the spots are hoping to increase their foot traffic and celebrate being a part of what Markowitz called “a foodie’s paradise.”

“The more restaurants that open, the more people want to come to Brooklyn,” said Joseph Chirico, president of the Brooklyn Restaurant Association and owner of the Carroll Gardens eatery Marco Polo.

Given the number of choices, any restaurant that opens has to be great in order to survive, said Chirico, who counts the Borough President as a loyal customer. But no matter how great a restaurant is, it could use a little attention. Dine in Brooklyn gives people an easy way to learn about restaurants they might have otherwise missed, he said.

Pete Thristino, owner of Pete’s Downtown in DUMBO, has had such success with “Dine in Brooklyn” in 2006 that his kitchen now offers a prix fixe menu year-round — and, at $20.07, it’s the cheapest of the restaurant week bunch.

“We do fantastic business with ‘Dine in Brooklyn,’” Thristino said. “It’s not as profitable as I’d like, but you can’t buy this kind of exposure.”

He added that many diners opt for cocktails and coffee, which are not included in the fixed price. And even if each diner is spending less on their meal, Thristino said, “I can’t make money on an empty table.”

Those empty tables won’t last for long, though. Pete’s Downtown already has between 60 and 70 reservations for each day of the program, and the River Cafe, which is only serving lunch, has approximately 100 for each day.

With 12 days to hit as many of the restaurants as you can, a good planner would start making reservations now. A great planner will not only make reservations, but also pick up a bigger pair of pants.

“Dine in Brooklyn” will take place from March 19 through 30. Three-course meals are $21.12 per person unless otherwise noted. Call each restaurant individually for reservations. For information, visit www.visitbrooklyn.org.

Pete’s Downtown (2 Water St. at Old Fulton Street in DUMBO) is open Tuesday through Thursday from noon until 10 pm, Friday from noon until 11 pm, Saturday from 5 pm until 11 pm and Sunday from 2 pm until 10 pm. For information, call (718) 858-3510.

The River Cafe (1 Water St. at Old Fulton Street in DUMBO) serves lunch Monday through Saturday from noon until 3 pm, and dinner beginning at 5:30 pm. For information, call (718) 522-5200.

The Smoke Joint (87 S. Elliot St. at Lafayette Avenue in Fort Greene) is open from Tuesday through Sunday from 11:30 am until 10 pm. For information, call (718) 797-1011.

Updated 4:27 pm, July 9, 2018
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