Mainstay of American Fare Is Transformed in the Wake of 9/11
Rector Street Food Enterprises, a.k.a. George’s, has served downtown residents and restaurant-goers for more than 60 years. Located at the corner of Greenwich and Rector, this three-story eatery with an exposed brick exterior seems somehow at home in the shadow of its towering glass and steel counterparts. Marked by a continuous stream of customers, this FiDi classic is a true family affair. Five years ago, after more than two decades at the helm, former owner George Koulmentas finally passed the baton to his son Bill.
“People think my name is George all the time and I never correct them,” quipped Bill, 40, one of the first residents of 20 Pine The Collection. “I’ve been here since I was a kid. What’s funny is that now people associate me with the restaurant so it’s easier for them to call me George.” Starting at the age of 10, Bill would spend summers and school breaks working as a dishwasher, bus boy, counterman and, ultimately, chef.
“If you don’t know how to do it yourself, how can you tell someone else to do it?” asked Bill. “If you don’t know how to do it yourself, how do you know if it’s being done right? That’s how George’s food and experience is quality-controlled.”
Over the years, Bill has witnessed a true transformation of the Financial District, with the emergence of upscale retail stores like Hermes and Tiffany’s and the arrival of luxury residential properties in buildings that were once corporate headquarters.
“The demographics in this area changed very fast,” said Bill. “This neighborhood was a Monday to Friday operation, but now weekends are our busiest days. New schools are being built, and residents and tourists have become our typical customers.”
What accelerated this transformation, he believes, was 9/11. The events of that day left structural damage to the building that had housed George’s for more than 50 years. Forced to demolish their “baby,” both father and son determined to infuse the new George’s with a fresh energy and attitude. Three years later, when George’s returned amid unanimous support, the neighborhood that greeted the Koulmentas clan was dramatically different.
“We wouldn’t exist without the community so we focus on providing the best quality food, experience and service,” said Bill. “What gets me excited is seeing people smile and return with their friends. Our aim is to ensure that guests feel as if they’re in a home away from home.”
George’s now features a warm color palette, cheerful imagery and outdoor seating. Bill has replaced staples like the meatloaf and Beef Stroganoff with café-like options, including a cappuccino muffin, French toast croissant and Santa Fe burger, to cater to the new clientele.
“A customer gave me a photograph of a beaten-up fire truck in front of St. Paul’s Chapel, which has an angel in the window from the reflection of a candle,” said Bill, of his restaurant’s sole nod to 9/11. “I’ve hung that in the middle of the space so that it overlooks everyone. We can never forget, but we all have to move forward.”
89 Greenwich Street
New York, NY 10006