Eat This New York

| January 16, 2012

John McCormack and Billy Phelps are two friends trying to open their own bar/restaurant in New York City in this documentary from director Andrew Rossi (Page One: Inside The New York Times). A seemingly impossible task, as the film opens with statistics telling the viewer that more than 1000 new restaurants are opened every year in New York, and that about 80% of these new businesses close down within 5 years.
So, immediately, there’s a lot at stake for the two friends, who invest everything they have in renovating an old storefront for their dream bar. The process takes months of construction and begging banks and friends for investments, all while John and Billy must face staffing problems, and a disintegrating personal relationship. Through all this, the film manages to embody a very optimistic view of the American dream; juxtaposing John and Billy’s story with success stories about New York’s most famous restaurateurs. This constant assurance that against all odds, there are people who have done very well in this business becomes a comfort as we continue to root for John and Billy.
This is a great story on its most basic level. The two friends’ passion for getting their restaurant perfect and open for business gives the audience something to care about. Seeing them struggle at every step, even at a symbolic level with things like buying the wrong sized staples, creates a genuine emotional response in the audience. The only problem is that the film is very short. At 85 minutes, we don’t get satisfactory exposure to John and Billy’s story; their arc as they go through this process. Especially since about half that time is spent looking at popular, successful restaurants and their owners. All of these tangential segments in the film are very interesting, but the emotional center of this film does get sacrificed a bit by devoting so much time to these people who have already done what John and Billy are trying to do.
It feels like maybe the day to day experiences of these two working on their bar didn’t generate enough interesting moments to sustain a full film on their own, so Andrew Rossi was forced to rely on secondary restaurant stories more than originally planned. Again, these stories are incredibly interesting, especially when we get to hear the various restaurateurs’ philosophies and approaches to this business. It gives the viewer a sense that a large part of being successful as a restaurant owner is luck. Viewers interested in these other owners’ stories will be happy to learn that the special features on the dvd contain extended interviews with these moguls.
According to google maps, John and Billy’s bar, Moto, which opened in January 2004 is still in business. The duo pulled off the impossible and here’s hoping they enjoy many more years of success.

About the Author:

Joe Sanders Joe Sanders is a podcaster, playwright, and college instructor in Kalamazoo, MI. He has a master's degree in playwriting and a bachelor's degree in creative writing from Western Michigan University, where he currently teaches thought and writing, and is the host of the Quote Unquote Guilty podcast, part of the Word Salad Network.
Filed in: Video and DVD

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