A few hours after its grand opening, the new International House of Pancakes in East Harlem was stuffed full of customers drowning their flapjacks with syrup — but community advocate Derrick Taitt wasn’t one of them.Taitt, the treasurer of the Community Association of the East Harlem Triangle, said he’s disappointed by the decision to install a 24-hour takeout window covered with bulletproof glass at the IHOP at 126th St. and Lexington Ave.
“There is no respect in the takeout,” said Taitt. “If the restaurant is going to be open, then it should be open, not just a window.”
The 24-hour takeout window, which serves customers through a Lazy Susan, is the first of its kind in any IHOP restaurant in the country, according to IHOP franchise business consultant Wayne Brown.
The small takeout window is open during the day, for customers who don’t want a sit-down meal, and when the restaurant stops seating customers at 11:30 p.m., pancake-craving patrons can order from the window until the restaurant opens again for breakfast.
IHOP owners said the restaurant might consider removing the bulletproof glass one day, but for now, it’s paramount to keep employees safe.
“Because of concerns regarding security, we wanted to serve 24 hours but find a way to do it safely,” Brown said. “This gives us a way to continue to provide service.”
IHOP location co-owner and anesthesiologist Dr. Billy Ford, who’s part of the team that also opened up Manhattan’s first IHOP, at West 135th Street and Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Boulevard, defended the decision to test out the 24-hour window at 126th Street while the new staff gets up to speed.
“The window might change in the future. We want to make everyone comfortable. Once we are comfortable, we can consider being open 24 hours,” said Ford, a member of the investment group Greater Omentum and Lawrence, which consists of eight physicians and managing partner Corey Lawrence.
The 135th Street IHOP stays open 24 hours from Friday at midnight to Saturday at midnight.
The 126th Street location has an off-duty police officer on scene, he said.
Still, some locals weren’t a fan of either a bulletproof glass window or a 24-hour restaurant at 126th Street — saying it would only invite trouble.
“I’m not a fan at all of the takeout window after a store is closed,” said Matthew Washington, chairman of Community Board 11. “I think there can be safety concerns with people standing around in the area. I don’t think it’s the best model.”
There has been commercial development in the area over the years, including a Duane Reade, a furniture store and a 24-hour Pathmark, which East Harlem Triangle helped develop with Abyssinian Baptist Church. But the neighborhood remains rough around the edges.
Washington said he hoped IHOP staffers would consider closing if the 24-hour plan becomes dangerous.
“…it’s borderline disrespectful.”
“If you have safety concerns about a particular area then just close your place earlier,” Washington said. “If you have safety concerns but you still want to make money, it’s borderline disrespectful.”
The new East Harlem IHOP will employ 135 full- and part-time employees. Combined with their other location, the company employs 200 people in Harlem, Ford said. He believes the Central Harlem store was a pioneer in the urban market for IHOP.
“Once they saw us doing well they realized IHOP is no longer just suburban. I feel like we helped to open up the market,” said Ford. “Look around. You wouldn’t know it’s opening day here.”
That’s why Brown doesn’t think the window is an issue.
“I don’t look at as a negative. They were under no direction to be open 24 hours but they see the potential in this community,” he said.
Still, the East Harlem IHOP almost never materialized because Greater Omentum & Lawrence could not secure a bank loan despite its track record, Ford said. The group ended up taking a loan from the developer of both of its locations, ddm development and services.
“We’ve been here over 20 years. We know the neighborhood and that it will do well,” said ddm managing partner Nina DeMartini-Day.
The Gateway II complex where the IHOP is located used to be a vacant lot. Now it hosts several businesses that provide more than 300 jobs.
“We feel this is a game-changer for people feeling comfortable here again. It’s more than a restaurant, it will be a community center,” DeMartini-Day said.
Some area residents said they weren’t bothered by the the window. Kevin White, a 28-year-old tile layer, said he was more upset that the IHOP was not a Boston Market or a Red Lobster than its 24-hour takeout window.
“Twenty-four hours is good because it’s hard to find something to eat over here when it gets late,” White said.
A woman who gave her name as Maryanne and who had just eaten at the restaurant, said the service and food were good.
“I don’t see a problem with it,” she said about the window. “You can eat pancakes whenever you want.”
Taitt said area residents are so starved for a decent sit-down restaurant in the area that he’s not surprised at the lack of objection.
“This area is still a work in progress but if you can change Lenox Avenue and 118th Street and Frederick Douglass Boulevard you can change any area,” said Taitt. “I want new projects to raise the standard.”
“IHOP is an establishment people like and appreciate. If they were open 24 hours, I’m sure people would go in and sit down and have pancakes at 3 a.m.,” he said.