Benny’s Burritos is reborn on E. Seventh St.

BY RAINER TURIM | Do you fondly reminisce about eating burritos at Benny’s Burritos on Avenue A? Well, you’re in luck, because Mark Merker, the owner of the former Benny’s and Harry’s Burritos has renamed Che Cafe, his recently opened empanada shop at 86 E. Seventh St., Benny’s Burritos & Empanadas.

“I miss Benny’s and I’ve been developing a idea for new burritos,” explained Merker, who was recently cited in New York Magazine for “Best Cheap Eats.” “So, I decided that I would change back to Benny’s Burritos and add the empanadas.”

Mark Merker at his reopened Benny’s Burritos & Empanadas, at 86 E. Seventh St. Photos by Rainer Turim

In addition to the name change, Merker has a new business partner, Scott Brooks.

“Scott is a person who’s been involved with branding names and different backgrounds in business,” Merker said, “an entrepreneur, which at this point is very important.”

Unfortunately, Che Cafe, located just west of First Ave., wasn’t receiving the same consistent business through the harsh cold weather, leading to some financial problems, leaving Merker to rethink the business.

“Che was good until that change in weather, and we just didn’t have the funds to maintain ourselves through those times, about three months,” Merker reflected. “But, before that, we were growing every day. And so, it was just a matter of financial that we weren’t able to do that.”

The name change comes less than four years after Benny’s Burritos closed its restaurant on Avenue A, before moving to takeout service there for a short period and then closing its doors.

Customers should expect healthier food at the new Benny’s Burritos & Empanadas than the past menu and a “newer version of what the burrito should be now,” said Merker.

The founder of the East Village eatery has more than 35 years’ experience in Mexican restaurant management.

His new partner Brooks was excited to get working on what he called “a healthier spin on what [Merker] has done in the past.”

Being a former customer of Benny’s Burritos on Avenue A, Brooks said, “It’s exciting to be part of the new branding and the new growth path that he has. I’ve lived in the East Village before he started. I live two blocks away.”

Longtime customers will know that this is not Merker’s first time on E. Seventh St. In 1987, the current empanada and burrito enthusiast opened Harry’s Burritos, one block east of where Merker opened Che Cafe.

Merker added that the rent on Avenue A was “just prohibitive,” and that the only way he could have possibly stayed in his space there would have been if there had been “a new landlord.”

Regardless, Merker’s story is a rare one, especially considering the recent closings of such iconic places as JAM Paper Store and the Grassroots Tavern.

Jeremiah Moss, a “Sunday night regular” at the former Benny’s Burritos, a local blogger and author of the recent book “Vanishing New York: How a Great City Lost Its Soul,” wrote that he was heartened that Benny’s Burritos had “un-vanished.”

“I’m excited,” he posted, “that some things that vanish can reappear.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *