ONCE UPON A TART, REBORN IN SOHO
There’s a part of SoHo that’s still home to townhouses and small independent shops, apart from the glossy multinational chains for which the Manhattan neighborhood is known. But the sad story of the mom-and-pop store closing and being supplanted by a branch of some corporate retailer isn’t particular to SoHo.
When Once Upon a Tart, a French bakery, was shuttered in 2014, it was just another local favorite lost to the changing times. The shop had been around under one name or another since the early 1900s. Then it was gone.
“I thought, ‘It’s the end of the era,’” said Alex Perros, who had been going to Once Upon a Tart for years. “It’s sad for the neighborhood. It’s sad for New York.”
But a few months later, Once Upon a Tart, at 135 Sullivan Street, got a second chance. Alicia Walter, a chef, reopened it in the same location and under the same name with her husband, Michael Stern, an architect.
“One of our goals was not to alienate people,” Ms. Walter said. “The regulars who come here still recognize it.”
Mr. Stern added, “We were one of those regulars, too.”
The shop was famous for the scones, the muffins and, of course, the tarts created by Jerome Audureau, a French transplant who once ran a bakery in Avignon. Patrons would sit on the Parisian park chairs out front and admire the window displays.
The new Tart is not the same, and that’s by design. Ms. Walter and Mr. Stern hope to avoid the fate of the previous owner.
“The Tart has to grow up,” she said. “It’s being forced to the next cycle of life.”
While they’ve kept the tin ceiling, the vintage tile floors and the 1878 upright Steinway, there have been changes. The biggest difference is the bistro in the adjoining storefront, which serves breakfast, lunch and dinner, and where live music plays a few nights a week.
Even in their updates, though, the owners have honored the past: They unearthed from the basement art and photographs from the bakery’s early days, which are now on display. The new counter was once the knife-sharpening station at Broadway Panhandler, a beloved Greenwich Village kitchen store that closed this year, yet another victim of a changing neighborhood.
As for the pastries, Ms. Walter knew those recipes could not be altered. She spent about three months working in the kitchen with the original Tart staff to make sure she had the scones and the muffins down pat. Customers “definitely hold us to our former products,” Ms. Walter said.
She recalled one customer who “let us know there weren’t enough blueberries” in the blueberry and walnut muffin, prompting her to make adjustments. Yet the new Tart does acknowledge the evolving SoHo landscape. For example, there are now vegan and gluten-free options.
Most customers have taken the changes in stride, including Mr. Perros. “Whatever works for business,” he said. “And they still have the best scones in town.”
For Karen Dalzell, a regular who lives across the street, Once Upon a Tart is more than a spot for a scone. It was the site of her daughter Oona’s first trip outside the house. “She was only four pounds, and someone cried when they saw her,” she said.
On a recent morning, Ms. Dalzell was buying pastries for herself and Oona, now a 12-year-old with green streaks in her blond hair, who was waiting outside with her dog.
Another customer, Vivien Watts, went through the stages of grief when the old Tart closed. These days Ms. Watts still makes the same trek she made for nine years, getting off one subway stop early to get in a walk and a cup of coffee before work. “Sometimes you resist change,” she said. “Then you get quite used to it.”