Lee Holin grew up in a family of New York restaurateurs. His father started his namesake Jeremy’s Ale House (228 Front Street), a friendly neighborhood haunt that has called Lower Manhattan home for four decades. And the recent sunny weather was what prompted Holin to reopen after two months being shut down.
“My father’s in Florida, my brother’s dealing with the Long Island location, so I decided to take up the reins here and see if we could get a little bit of money to get us through this,” he told the Downtown Alliance, “however long it’s gonna be.”
As trusty Jeremy’s staffers set up the storefront order window (hours are currently noon to 9p), Holin tied on an apron and stationed himself in the kitchen. It’s not exactly his natural habitat. Despite a previous career in nightlife (he operated the long-defunct Downtown bar Meade’s), Lee has spent his more recent years focusing on his art. “I’m not making any money off of art,” he said. “I don’t know many people who are — not right now!”
Instead, those creative energies have been redirected toward the menu, based on what’s available. Lee is aware of his limits in the kitchen; fortunately it’s what people seem to be craving: Buffalo wings, mini-burgers, chicken fingers, hot dogs, tater tots, cheese fries, nachos — several variations on barbecue wings. “I know how to do certain things, but I don’t know how to do everything,” Lee admitted. “Somebody came by here and ordered a whole bunch of mozzarella sticks and said, ‘I haven’t had fried food in two months — I just want fried food!’“
“The weekend we reopened,” he continued, “having two orders up from two different customers would scare me. I’d get nervous. Oh my god! I’m backed up! I’d feel confused and rushed and scared and wanna crawl under the fryer and hide, but I’m getting a little better at it.”
But fear not, Jeremy’s regulars: The normal cook is back in action and manning the grill now.
It’s a delicate balance between trying to scrape by while also showing care and concern for the health of Downtowners. Despite the extraordinary new normal, there’s something familiar to the Holin clan about having to spontaneously change everything at the last moment. “I know this is global now,” Lee said, “unlike Superstorm Sandy when it was more local. But in some way, it’s also like Ah, we’ve done it before — we know how to do it!” Some people remember not being in business during September 11. And we remember in the ’90s the Con Ed plant here had a meltdown and shut down the neighborhood. So it’s like an average of every 10 years we go through something like this.”
Lee feels optimistic that the family will pull through once again. They may not make a lot of money. They may just barely break even, but even that would be a triumph. “We’re in business,” he said. “That’s the success story.”