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Zen Yai Owner to Open Williamsburg Location After Sunnyside Fire, Vows to Return to Neighborhood

Zen Yai (Photo: QueensPost)

Feb. 15, 2019 By Nathaly Pesantez

Zen Yai, the Vietnamese noodle and coffee shop that was among several Queens Boulevard businesses destroyed in a fire late last year, will soon reemerge in Williamsburg, according to the owner, who said he remains committed to one day returning to Sunnyside.

The restaurant, which opened at 45-04 Queens Blvd. two years ago before a five-alarm fire on Dec. 13 brought it and five other connecting stores down, is anticipated to open this spring at 208 Grand St., a few blocks from the Williamsburg Bridge.

The new restaurant, more than double the size of the former 30-seat location, will retain the Zen Yai name and much of the prior site’s menu, which includes varieties of pho, stirred fry noodles dishes, rice bowls, and curry. Cafe beverages like coffee and teas also formed part of the restaurant’s selections.

The larger kitchen at the Brooklyn location will also allow for additional items to be prepared and served, like Hainanese chicken rice and Vietnamese barbecue dishes. A full liquor license is also being sought for the site.

Bryan Chunton, the restaurant owner, told the Sunnyside Post that the Williamsburg location was already in the works before the December fire. He had started looking for a place to expand to six months ago, and had the lease in hand ready to sign, but the early morning blaze delayed the signing until about a month ago.

Chunton, a 49-year-old Woodside native who now lives closer to Elmhurst, said he had a premonition that something was to occur with his restaurant in the hours before the 2 a.m. fire.

Six stores, including Zen Yai, were destroyed after a five-alarm fire on Dec. 13. (Photo: Nathaly Pesantez)

“It was kind of strange before the fire,” he said, adding, “The store seemed weird—it was a weird feeling.”

He hadn’t been at the restaurant the day before—an unusual departure from his routine—and eventually got around to the Queens Boulevard site at around 10:30 p.m., just hours before the fire.

But the store, which often stayed opened a little past its 10:30 p.m. closing time for lingering diners, had already shut its doors for the day.

The days after the massive fire saw widespread support and organizing efforts for the impacted business owners and employees, estimated at more than 100 people in total. About $165,000 had been raised as part of fire relief efforts.

Chunton was overcome by the neighborhood’s swift response and willingness to help, and vowed to rise again in Sunnyside.

“That’s what makes me want to go back,” he said. “But I just want to do it right.”

He said several offers have come his way, but were turned down because of location, with many of the proposed sites off Queens Boulevard.

“I think it’s important because the pricing of the product is low, so I need the high volume,” he said of his choice to remain on the boulevard. Practically all Zen Yai menu items are priced below $10.

The ideal plan would be to open back up at the same spot once its redeveloped, which Christopher Petsanas, the third-generation property owner, intends to do, Chunton said.

The aftermath of the Dec. 13 fire. (Photo: Nathaly Pesantez)

“We had a long term lease there,” he said, adding, “We had incurred a relationship with the landlord.”

He reiterated that the question is not if, but when.

“Whatever it takes, I will come back,” he said. “If there is a spot across, maybe I’ll take it if it’s good. Or I’ll wait until they build the building back.”

The Williamsburg spot would have been Chunton’s third restaurant after Zen Yai in Sunnyside. The restaurateur, who said he was “born into the business,” opened Eat’s Khao Man Gai in the East Village last summer. The locale specializes in khao man gai, a popular street food in Thailand.

Chunton, who returned to New York more than a decade ago after opening and later selling a handful of restaurants in the west coast, is also planning on expanding Eat’s Khao Man Gai to the Essex Street Market in Manhattan this spring.

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42 Comments

Elizabeth

We live in Sunnyside and love Zen Yai. Until you return, we will visit your other locations and support you there.

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AstoriaWelcomeYou

If you cannot find a right location and affordable rent, come to my neighborhood Astoria! We welcome you!

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LIC is better

No. Come to Long Island City! We just lose Amazon…… i will call all my LIC friends visit your Williamsburg location and Essex St Market. Consider open next one in LIC…

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Sabroso

All you people complaining about this guy “abandoning” Sunnyside: Why not read the article before you open your mouths? He was already planning on expanding into the Williamsburg location long before the fire, and was about to sign the lease. He says he is still planning on re-opening in Sunnyside, let’s give him the benefit of the doubt.

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A CustomerForZenYai

Zen Yai you made right decision. Have your Williamsburg deal going if they offer you a good rent. Take City’s support in Essex St market. Ignore those voice in Sunnyside they are not business owner. It’s worthy to wait for a good location, a good landlord and a good Rent. We all knows some of Landlords in Sunnyside raise up rent because of Amazon! Real customers and real friends will bless you. When you are ready, when your landlord is ready, please come back to Sunnyside! I really miss your Food.

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Zinsu

The article says Bryan was planning to open a Williamsburg location even before the fire. I wish him good luck with the new restaurant and eagerly await his reopening in Sunnyside. Kimchi tofu banh mi 4 life!

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Nancy

I want Zen Yai comeback. I visited there every other day for their delicious pho, Bahn Mi and rice bowls with price under $10!!!

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SurfeRoss

Well, there’s apparently an opportunity for someone in Sunnyside now, let’s see who seized it first.

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Sunnysideposthatesme

Why is nobody stating the obvious. This wasn’t just a kitchen fire. This was a clear attack on the properties . The owner himself said something felt off. You just have to go up and down sunnyside to notice the mafia presence in town . I wouldn’t blame him for dumping sunnyside for another town

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Sunnysideposthatesme

Look at all the empty lots. Just hang around at night and you.ll see activity. Everyone here is asking the wrong questions. Why is there no official word on how a fire took out a whole lot of stores so quickly? Why does this keep happening IN sunnyside?? Why is there another string of stores closed on 40th from restaurants open for years? You’re all fools if you think this is something that just happens

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Backagain

I guess the insurance money 🙂 is helping them open in a more desirebale location. Sad, it was such a great addition to the Sunnyside neighborhood. Ironically there are so many places where they could had open in Sunnyside.

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Support Small Business

High rent! Even there’s good location, landlords in Sunnyside asked too much rent because of Amazon!

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Comeback please

Insurance money probably take a long time….. if I were them, I would just retire. Who wants to risk money in restaurant business again! But I hope Zen Yai, SideTrack, NY style eating all come back….

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Pei W

If you know Brian, you know he stays in Sunnyside for many years. Even he loses money from Blu Orchid he still stay in Sunnyside till that massive fire destroyed his business. I am sure he had difficulty to get a good spot with a reasonable rent. Please be more considerate to his situation.

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Queens Streets for All

Come back soon, Bryan. You probably remember the night a few members of our steering committee came in and one of our senior members said you served him the best Vietnamese sandwich since he’d served in Vietnam. We weren’t sure if he was serious and he doesn’t really turn up to our meetings anymore.
Don’t want to name him here, but did he ever go back? He seemed really excited about the food. Let us know if he turns up at your Williamsburg location and tell him we said hi.
Also, make sure you choose a location where it is easy to park. That’s always a huge plus.

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CNG

This is tragic since i’ve gone to Zen Yai when it first opened in sunnyside.

I thought the community raised funds for these businesses after the fire. Now they’re moving to Williamsburg?

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Pei

He wants to open multiple locations for his brand. How do you know he is waiting to come back. He loves Sunnyside

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Investment Banking

Community raised fund for helping 6 business employees and family cover some expenses in a few months Not their business….. How much money you think to invest a restaurant? At least $300000-$500000 do you think community funding can offer that much to a business? I really want to tell Zen Yai Do not come back to this neighborhood. Why waste another half million in a tough neighborhood?

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Curlicue58

You just did! Really was the comment necessary? Would have been nice to know where my money went. At Eats all the waiters & waitresses,cooks, Susan behind the counter all needed help. Some of them working there 13 years with families. There is ignorance and then the people who care on this site as always. It was very upsetting what happened. I haven’t heard anything about the workers or owners in any of the businesses and I went to all except the “lingerie “ store. Yes I’m upset he’s not coming back I had just started going . If it was that easy we’d all open one!

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Curlicue58

He’s not coming back,he’s expanding his place in the Essex Street Market on the LES & opening Williamsburg!
To say he had “a feeling “ the day of the fire is just an excuse!

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Chris

Isn’t Essex st market run by city not private corporate? And Williamsburg is his extended location before fire. You shall be happy he had opportunity to continue this brand from Sunnyside.

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Curlicue58

My mother shopped in the Essex Street Market for my grandmother when she was growing up on the LES. It is run by the city but you still have to lease your space, which I’m sure isn’t cheap. The new apartments are selling for 1.2 million & up.

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Real Estate Agent

Any place is better than Long Island City and Sunnyside. Rent is redicurously high on main Blvd. because greedy landlord takes Amazon as an excuse. 800sqf on Queens Blvd, Sunnyside $9000. No gasoline. One place on LIC 2000sqf ask for $25000 !!! Maybe landlords can lower down rents and key money. No one want to pay this rent not mention Amazon not here anymore!

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Igore them

I live in Sunnyside too. Zen Yai offer affordable and high quality menu for community. He had plans to come back. Shouldn’t we be more open minded and more positive not talk BS push him away?

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Charlotte W

Owner probably had difficulty having a ideal spot with a reasonable rent in Sunnyside. That Williamsburg location just an extension from Sunnyside before fire. I am sure he wants to stay in his neighborhood. He rather wait for his landlord rebuild his spot.

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Doubt

What happened to that Romantic Depot? They disappeared after fire not even show up in any community event…..

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NoTruth

I know faulty wire cause massive fire 🔥 I doubt it’s from kitchen… please stop pointing at someone did it. This is not nice!

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