The National Grid embargo on new gas accounts continues to devastate a number of small Bushwick businesses, forcing restaurant owners like BK Jani’s Sibté Hassan, Indika House’s Nishat Sogir, and Empanada City’s Briant Almonte to postpone opening their respective new locations indefinitely. After the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC) rejected a National Grid-backed pipeline extension in May due to water quality concerns, National Grid announced that it would cease to provide gas to businesses without an existing meter until the pipeline is approved.
Last week’s piece on Empanada City’s current dilemma detailed the extensive debt the Almontes are likely to face if National Grid doesn’t end their embargo soon, and several other business owners have since come out with their own stories.
Sibte Hassan of Bushwick’s BK Jani, a Pakistani barbecue spot, told Bushwick Daily that he already had a gas account with National Grid prior to hearing the news. The new location at 679 Grand Street was previously occupied by pizzeria The Big Ragu, and had an existing gas meter. However, the new restaurant would require a much larger gas load than the current meter was capable of supplying, according to National Grid technicians. When Hassan first spoke with a National Grid representative, they informed him that he’d just have to install brackets for a larger meter, and they’d send someone over to turn on the gas.
That never happened. Hassan installed the brackets and made an appointment to have the new, larger meter installed, only to be told in mid-May that his business would be “heavy on existing infrastructure,” and that they would be unable to provide him with a new meter.
“I’m a small little restaurant,” said an exasperated Hassan.
Hassan had planned to open in April or May, but has now lost over three months of business, including the substantial amount of revenue he would have brought in from renting out the space’s finished back patio to private parties. The restaurant is sitting there like a “big, fat elephant,” he said. “Sitting, doing nothing.”
Nishat Sogir, who has been trying to open the Indian restaurant Indika House with her father, sister, and brother, has met similar distress. After having their meter taken away by a National Grid technician, presumably to be replaced by a larger one, Sogir said, they were engaged in a seemingly endless back-and-forth over the phone with National Grid. They were told repeatedly that they would receive a new meter, and Sogir and her father waited through several all-day appointments for a technician that would never come.
When Sogir finally got through to a representative, they told her she’d need a larger meter to suit the space’s required load of 1,000,000 BTU which, Sogir said, “makes no sense” as the neighboring restaurant consumes only 400,000 BTU. She was told that she would not receive a meter because her required load is “not safe for Brooklyn.”
A frustrated Sogir called National Grid repeatedly, trying to clear up the situation. Eventually, she was told by a representative of National Grid that she would not receive a meter, and was asked to stop calling. To further complicate matters, she was told that her case had been passed on to the team at NESE, the proposed pipeline that National Grid has been trying to get approved by the state.
Sogir and her family have sunk over half a million dollars into the restaurant, and Sogir cannot bring herself to give her father, an elderly man in poor health, the news. With her case rejected by National Grid and now supposedly in the hands of NESE, Sogir remains fearful and uncertain.
Louis Zacharias, a contractor as well as the Sogirs’ landlord, has been a fierce advocate for the family’s case and for that of other small businesses in the neighborhood. The biggest problem, he believes, is that National Grid is carrying out a “work slowdown,” by unduly drawing out the process of providing gas service. Zacharias hopes to organize a forum with local officials like Borough President Eric Adams and Representative Nydia Velasquez to help expedite a solution. If not, he said, “what’s happening in the neighborhood is going to get worse. It’s going to get way worse.”
Sogir, however, has little hope for the situation. “I feel like, at this point, it doesn’t matter who you know or what connections you have,” she said. “They don’t want to give it at all.”
From Cobble Hill to Gravesend, myriad businesses and individuals are facing financial devastation. Several have been told by National Grid that they should reach out to state legislators and ask them to support the pipeline, Brooklyn Eagle reported.
Council Member Rafael Espinal said in a public statement released on August 15 that the “rash” embargo is “devastating to real New Yorkers,” who, he believes, are “not being treated as people, but as pawns in the game National Grid is attempting to play to get what they want.” In a phone call to Bushwick Daily, Espinal said that he believes the embargo is less motivated by limits on infrastructure than by National Grid’s own agenda to get the pipeline approved.
Espinal also believes National Grid should have given ample warning to consumers like Hassan, Sogir, and the Almontes. “For them to do this in the immediate when we have folks who already have plans and have made investments, that’s absolutely wrong,” Espinal said.
Espinal, who sits on the Council’s Committee on Consumer Affairs and Business Licensing, plans to put pressure on National Grid to provide services to these businesses in the immediate while they work toward a long-term solution.
Cover photo courtesy of Rachel Baron for Bushwick Daily.
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