Top chefs launch restaurant boom at most difficult time of year

Top chefs launch restaurant boom at most difficult time of year

Five high-profile restaurants are bravely opening in Manhattan in the midst of the holiday season — the most difficult time to launch new places, owners and chefs agreed.

The roster of top toques includes Michelin-star earners Jean-Georges Vongerichten, Daniel Boulud and Andrew Carmellini — all of whom are counting on their star power and experience to overcome the pitfalls of opening a restaurant when tree-gazing tourists can outnumber local culinary mavens.

Hiring staff is less of a nightmare for their long-established restaurant companies than it is for smaller, individual operators.

Even so, “People who spend substantial money for dinner are not forgiving even if you just opened a few weeks beforehand,” said veteran restaurateur and industry consultant Don Evans.

“It’s simply best to open during slower months to fine-tune your kitchen and front-of-house staff.”

Simon Oren, an owner of 10 Manhattan places including soon-to-open middle Eastern-themed Acadia at Sixth Avenue and West 57th Street, agreed that “It’s kind of a different animal opening in the holidays.”

Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s Four Twenty Five will open with dinner service only in a few weeks.
New York Post
Daniel Boulud’s Cafe Boulud will have a public “soft opening” in about two weeks.
Tamara Beckwith

For one thing, the openings come too late to catch most of the holiday season private-party wave, which began over a month ago at such popular eateries as Cellini on East 54th Street and Porter House at Deutsche Bank Center.

So Acadia’s second floor, tailored to private events, will mostly have to wait till next year for the full windfall.

Party-driven revenue in the year’s last three months can account for up to 40 percent of a popular restaurant’s annual take, Oren said.

Also likely to miss out on most of the bonanza are Vongerichten’s Four Twenty Five, Boulud’s relocated Cafe Boulud, and David Burke’s Park Ave Kitchen, which won’t launch until early or mid-December.

Only Carmellini managed to open his luxe new flagship, French-Italian Cafe Carmellini, before Thanksgiving.

Simon Oren’s soon-to-open Acadia at Sixth Avenue and West 57th Street.
Aksana Kadachnikava
Acadia’s second floor, tailored to private events, will mostly have to wait till next year for the full windfall.
Aksana Kadachnikava

The rare holiday-opening boom comes as the restaurant industry continues an uneven recovery from the damage caused by pandemic lockdowns.

The NYC Hospitality Alliance reported in August that nearly half of respondents to a survey reported lower revenue compared to August 2022 — although surprising to diners who find many places so busy that they can’t get reservations.

Four Twenty Five hoped to open in October at 425 Park Ave., the new, Norman Foster-designed office tower at East 56th Street.

Lois Freedman, president of Jean-Georges Management, said, “I don’t think we ever opened in December before.

But it gives us the opportunity to do sort of a softer opening” where the team can get up to speed before the crush comes.

Middle-Eastern themed Acadia will feature Mediterranean cuisine in an innovative way.
Francesco Sapienza

The restaurant will open with dinner service only in a few weeks, adding lunch in January.

The menu by Vongerichten and executive chef Jonathan Benno remains under wraps but the place “blends culinary excellence with architectural marvel and sustainability practices,” according to its website.

The long-awaited venue aims to exploit the return-to-office trend that’s especially strong on Park Avenue.

David Burke’s Park Ave Kitchen won’t launch until early or mid-December.
David Burke Hospitality Group
Burke will open his first full-scale Manhattan restaurant in three years at 277 Park Avenue.
Francesco Sapienza, Google Maps

Getting it off the ground didn’t come easily. But Vongerichten, who launched 10 different eateries inside the 40,000 square-foot Tin Building downtown last year, joked, “After the Tin Building, everything is easy.”

Boulud and Sebastien Silvestri, CEO of parent company Dinex Group, would have preferred an earlier opening for Cafe Boulud at 100 E. 63rd Street, previously home to Michael White’s Vaucluse.

Upper East Siders clamored for it since its predecessor on East 78th Street closed three years ago.

“We had to do cosmetic work in the dining room and had to re-fit the kitchen although the mechanical and electrical systems and plumbing were already in place,” Boulud said.

Andrew Carmellini opened Cafe Carmellini before Thanksgiving.
Christian JohnsTon

Despite Cafe Boulud’s long absence, the chef regards it as “not creating a new restaurant but reopening one that is already on our map.

We’ve been able to build our team with many alumni of the previous Café Boulud as well as our other restaurants.

Both our executive chef Romain Paumier and executive pastry Chef Katalina Diaz are from Restaurant Daniel and much of our front-of-house team is coming back from our previous location.”

Cafe Boulud-redux will have a public “soft opening” in about two weeks.

Burke, long a popular chef on the New York scene, will open his first full-scale Manhattan restaurant in three years at 277 Park Avenue (entrance on Lexington Avenue).

The dining room at relocated Cafe Boulud required changes to the space that was previously Vaucluse.
Credit: Cafe Boulud

“I don’t know that opening during the holidays is any worse or better than any other time,” he said. “Because we have so many restaurants in the metro area, we can pull experienced staff from them if we need to. People want to work for us. By design, we’re overstaffed at Park Ave Kitchen with the intention of weeding out those who don’t cut it.” Burke added.

He was certain that “something like 17 hotels within four blocks” will draw more than enough tourists as well as locals.

Oren chuckled of his own and all the owners’ confidence, “To be a restaurateur you have to be extremely optimistic.”

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