Because this site focuses on news, the businesses that have been around awhile—and that make this neighborhood special—don’t get the coverage they should. The photographs for the “Spotlight” series are by Claudine Williams, who specializes in business, personal branding, and glamour portraits. She also dabbles in street photography for fun. Originally from Philadelphia, she has made NYC her home for the past seven years with her husband and son.
“People say we’re their Cheers, their happy place, their clubhouse,” says Stacey Sosa, irrepressible owner of Estancia 460 in northwest Tribeca. “It’s a whole experience—you don’t just come here for a meal, you come for the feeling.”
How did you get started in the restaurant business?
I was a wannabe dancer/actress, waiting tables. I lived in L.A. for several years, waiting tables to pay the bills, and I used to cry while driving down Sunset Boulevard: “I’m so good at waiting tables! Is it all I’m ever going to do?” Lo and behold, here I am owning a restaurant.
I feel like you might have skipped a part.
After L.A., I moved back to New York. I was still dancing, but I thought I’d learn physical therapy. I was a SAG member, so they paid for me to go back to school. My last year in school, I was hired on a tour for the ’92 Olympics—it was tribute to Fred Astaire. And I met Jorge Sosa at the same time. The tour was canceled, but we went to Europe anyway and fell in love. We were married in 1993, moved to Tribeca in 1994, and had a baby.
Jorge was an architect—he designed the Independent, where Landmarc is now—and a partner in Novecento on W. Broadway. He knew a carpenter who used this space as a workshop, but the guy didn’t want it anymore, or couldn’t afford it, and Jorge and a friend thought it would be a great space for a coffee shop. Building this out cost all of like $75,000: The marble counter was a reject from some project, the bookshelves didn’t fit in a townhouse on Fifth Avenue…. When Sosa Borella opened in 1993, it was just a café. And after a month, Jorge’s partner realized he didn’t want to wake up early to sell coffee at 7 a.m. I said to Jorge, “Let me get involved!” I knew my way around restaurants from waiting tables. And in L.A., I ate everywhere. We asked the chef at Novecento to help devise a menu, and within two years, Sosa Borella was a full-fledged restaurant. And then the New York Times review came out, calling it the “I Love Stacey” show. People idealized us as a couple: the Jewish American princess and the Argentine cowboy…. The drama of it all.
We raised our kids here. My son was in the first class of P.S. 89, and both kids went to Washington Market Park school when there wasn’t a waitlist. 9/11 was a big turning point: We realized how invested we were in the neighborhood—and in rebuilding it. We were lucky, in that we were only closed a week, and we became the neighborhood place. People needed to be together at that time. Trying to take advantage of cheaper rents after 9/11, because we knew we wanted to expand, we opened a Sosa Borella in Hell’s Kitchen.
In 2005, when our relationship dissolved, I kept downtown and Jorge kept the Hell’s Kitchen restaurant. That’s when I really learned to be a restaurateur. I hadn’t been back-of-house at all. I tasted wines and I had strong ideas about the menu, but I didn’t know about health permits, liquor licenses, payroll taxes…. It was definitely a learning curve. In 2007, I changed the name to Estancia 460. We were different restaurants by that point, and people were getting confused.
What is Estancia known for?
People say we’re their Cheers, their happy place, their clubhouse. It’s a whole experience—you don’t just come here for a meal, you come for the feeling. The neighborhood has taken on the entire staff; they get invited to people’s parties, to their country houses. It’s not about me.
What’s the most satisfying part of what you do?
I love connecting people. They become friends, business acquaintances….
Most popular dish?
Stacey: The salmon? The bistecca? Katie! [Katie Leonard is the general manager.] What do you think the most popular dish is?
Katie: Probably the chicken Milanese with bruschetta.
Stacey: Yes, the Milanese.
Most popular drink?
Stacey: Besides wine? We change the list all the time, which people love. Katie?
Katie: The Rosalita. It’s jalapeño-infused tequila, hibiscus and rose cordial, and lime juice, with a rose-petal salt rim.
Tribeca has obviously changed a lot. Any changes that have surprised you?
Even with so much being built in north Tribeca, it still feels the same. I’m so happy that the feeling has been preserved, that even as it’s grown, there hasn’t been a boom in the amount of commercial space. It’s such a community. We’ve raised so many kids here! I do think the hotel [planned for 456 Greenwich] will be a big change. We’re not used to that kind of traffic—to hotel traffic, which means constantly changing people.
How has your business changed?
We’ve been very lucky: Most businesses hit a plateau and stop growing, or even go down, but there’s so much more residential in this area, which has been great for us. Delivery is crazy. It always surprised me how people with beautiful kitchens order in so much.
What percentage of your business is local?
It’s huge! Eighty percent? Even the workers at Citi and Havas and wherever—they might as well be locals, they come every day. I never take for granted the business that I have. I’m always watching who else has opened, trying to stay on top of my game. Every year, we’re investing in better-quality everything.
Tell me a crazy customer story.
Stacey: There are so many. Katie! What’s a crazy customer story?
Katie: How about Thanksgiving?
Stacey: [Laughs.] Or dancing on the bar?
Katie: Or Bart and his bottle of Johnnie Walker Black….
Stacey: Or the people we’ve had to ban. [Whispers.] Actually, there’s one here right now.
But you banned him!
Twice. But now he’s great. Oh, I know! Our regulars get upset when we close for a private party. There was a gentleman who wanted to bring some friends in during a party, and I had to tell him no. “I’ll pay!” he said. “I have money!” I explained that he couldn’t come in—it’s a party. It’s exclusive. Twenty minutes later, he’s back carrying a bottle: “I brought my own booze!” Finally, he left. But I had seen him wearing a strange coat, and later on, when a guest’s coat went missing, I just knew he had walked out with it. He lives nearby, so I went to the building and told the doorman how the resident had taken a coat by accident. But our regular wouldn’t answer his buzzer, even though the doorman said he was inside. The doorman—they all know us—actually let me into the guy’s apartment! He was knocked-out asleep, so I searched all over, but I couldn’t find it. I went back to the restaurant, only to learn that Katie had found the coat. And the guy has no idea this ever happened.
Where do you eat/drink/shop around here?
We love the Ear. And drinks at Evening Bar in the Smyth. My staff does Smith & Mills every so often. I’m fond of Valley—they’re so nice. And we go to the iPlaza spa at 475 Greenwich—it’s the best. Grand Banks…. Añejo is also a great spot. No pretentiousness.
What does the future hold?
I just renewed my lease!
That’s great news. And of course it’s no secret you’d love to open another place….
I’m always interested. My creative juices are always flowing. I’m just looking forward to seeing what happens next. You know what I want? I want to have Katie do all the work and send me checks while I do yoga and drink wine.
What didn’t I ask?
How I lost my virginity?
[Pause.] I’m still not asking.
I was a prude. It was in college.
Good to know.
And do I date my customers?
Do you date your customers?
Does not dating your customers risk alienating them?
Not at all! They love the flirting. They love the chase.
Previously in this series:
••• Boomerang Toys
••• Antiqueria Tribeca
••• Real Pilates
••• Church Street School for Music and Art
••• Kings Pharmacy
••• Church Street Surplus
••• New York Nautical
••• Lance Lappin Salon
••• Joseph Carini Carpets
••• A Uno
••• Balloon Saloon
••• Fountain Pen Hospital
••• Chambers Pottery
••• Square Diner
••• Langdon Florist
••• Tribeca Upholstery & Draperies
••• Double Knot
••• Philip Williams Posters