The paletas of La Newyorkina.
Photo: Mélissa Hom

In 2012, Hurricane Sandy devastated many New York food businesses, including Fany Gerson’s Newyorkina. At the time, Gerson, who also opened Pastry in 2010, ran La Newyorkina as an online and pop-up retailer of summer paleta. Hurricane flooded her production facility in Red Hook, which she couldn’t access for weeks due to an electronic portal, and ruined both inventory and $ 100,000 of equipment. Gerson did not have investors with considerable pockets to help her and at the time she was unable to secure a loan from a local group as she did not have a physical store.

In no time, as Sandy knocked, Gerson said she was talking to investors about transforming La Newyorkina into an independent store. Sandy delayed the project for another four years. When Gerson finally did open the Greenwich Village business in October 2016, it was a colorful and warm boutique dedicated to its obsession with everything sweet (and especially frozen) from Mexico. That year she said: “It’s just the beginning, but for me it’s always been the dream.” Today, four years later, she will close the store at La Newyorkina on January 10, another devastated dream, this time by the coronavirus pandemic.

When we spoke this week, Gerson didn’t shy away from tackling the pre-COVID challenges the store was facing as a seasonal business. Last January, she launched a pop-up pozole with chef Danny Mena as a way of trying to get through the slower winter months. “We were going to test a concept of tacos and treats this summer, but everything was to make it work so that I didn’t lose the store,” she says.

When public life was interrupted and restaurants were closed, Gerson says his neighborhood emptied: the rich residents fled the city, as they did in other wealthy enclaves, and NYU shut down, so the student body left too. “We were doing acts that we do in the dead of winter on certain days in the summer, which is crazy,” she says.

Fany Gerson making garrafa nieves.
Photo: Mélissa Hom

Throughout the pandemic, Gerson and Mena have maintained their pop-up, La Newyorkina, selling dishes like tortilla soup, Arabian tacos, and roasted pineapple empanadas, the kind of nourishing, free food. claim you hope to find in a Mexico City canteen or lunch spot like Nicos. (Her too open Fan-Fan Donuts in the space housing the original paste.) But Gerson says she struggled to pay the rent and tried to find a replacement to take over her lease, but ultimately couldn’t.

Gerson is of course not alone. Across the country, an unfathomable number of restaurants have closed, causing an avalanche of losses for people and their communities: the jobs and livelihoods of those who work in these restaurants; the financial and emotional investments of those who have dedicated their lives to business; in some cases, the history of the place; and, in any case, pieces of a community, whatever its size. To take just one example, the closest grocery store to La Newyorkina, which also closed, was someone’s livelihood, and perhaps it was a dream for the owners as well.

Focusing on a specific business is not ignoring the larger devastation. What’s remarkable about La Newyorkina is that it’s the rare place that really feels unique. There just couldn’t be another place like this in New York City, as Gerson is a true Mexican sweets specialist (just read his cookbook My sweet mexico). La Newyorkina is a synthesis of this in-depth knowledge, of the candy shops she grew up in Mexico City and of an American ice cream parlor. Gerson served things right on the streets of Mexico City, like nieves de garrafa, a type of ice cream that resembles custard in its purest form and which she made with salty requesón cheese. She also sold sundaes with toppings like cajeta, a Mexican goat’s milk caramel; puffed amaranth; cherry-hibiscus compote; and chapulines. There were churros and churro ice cream sandwiches, pastries like conchas and chocoflan, and lots of hot chocolate, not to mention all the homemade paletas.

Losing this business is losing something unique, and Gerson says she really hopes to bring the store back. For now, the business will continue as an online retail operation, and maybe Gerson will find a better location for La Newyorkina. Barely four years old, it’s not exactly an institution, but smaller places like La Newyorkina – or Chinatown, now closed Hua Ji Pork Chop Fast Food and the assembly of Fordham Heights 188 Bakery Cuchifritos – are as much part of the fabric of the city as the companies with the biggest brands. Newyorkina wasn’t really about selling ice cream; it was one person’s obsession, fully realized for everyone to enjoy. It was a bit like Gerson’s Mexico here in New York, but for now, it’s gone anyway.