A Nobel Prize-Nominated Chef Isn’t Giving Up on Cities
(Bloomberg) -- As empty storefronts continue to dominate many neighborhoods around New York, one of the world’s highest-profile chefs is doubling down on his commitment to the city.
This fall, José Andrés will open an outpost of the beloved Mediterranean restaurant Zaytinya in the new Ritz-Carlton New York, NoMad. A branch of the high-end avant-garde dining spot Bazaar will follow later in the year, also in the downtown Manhattan hotel.
“I’m committed to New York in a big way. It’s a city I believe in” says Andrés in a phone interview. He adds that while Washington is his hometown, “I have always had a sweet tooth for New York.”
Andrés, who garnered a 2019 Nobel Peace Prize nomination for feeding disaster-hit areas through his nonprofit World Central Kitchen, says he plans on spending concentrated time in New York in the second half of the year, gearing up for his restaurant openings.
New York isn’t the only city Andrés’s ThinkFoodGroup is focused on in 2021. The restaurant group has four dining spots slated to open in Chicago by the end of summer. Three concepts are located in the new Bank of America tower on the south branch of the Chicago River, operated in partnership with the famed steakhouse and martini experts Gibsons Restaurant Group. They include Bazaar Meat, the seafood-focused Bar Mar and Joe by the River, an all-day café.
The Chicago enterprise is ThinkFoodGroup’s first partnership with another restaurant. An outpost of the Spanish tapas spot Jaleo will also open in River North this summer.
“You’re going to see more of these partnerships with restaurant groups,” says Andrés about how his company will be doing business.
ThinkFoodGroup, which has 29 restaurants as well as locations for its fast-casual spot, Beefsteak, across the country, acquired the Bazaar brand from SBE Entertainment Group in 2018 for an undisclosed amount of money. The group bought Bazaar, where Andrés was executive chef, to assume full control and expand it beyond the SLS hotels in which they had been located.
Andrés had announced in early 2020 that he would opening restaurants in New York but didn’t reveal the concepts. Although the pandemic has upended many planned openings around the city, ThinkFoodGroup stayed committed to its dining rooms, which are only a few weeks behind schedule.
“New York is a special market to José and to me, and we’ve seen the city bounce back from so many challenges,” says co-founder Rob Wilder. “We have 100% confidence that New York will come back.”
President Sam Bakhshandehpour, formerly global head of gaming in the real estate and lodging investment group at J.P. Morgan Chase & Co., says ThinkFoodGroup is focused on expansion. “As these cities experience grand reopenings, we are looking for further locations to gain scale in cities. We’re looking to replicate what we have in D.C., where we have six different establishments, [and] in New York, South Florida, and Vegas,” he says.
Andrés says there are no immediate plans to expand his footprint in New York, beyond the Ritz-Carlton property and his existing Mercado Little Spain in Hudson Yards. The latter development has seen a series of high-profile restaurants close during the pandemic, including Thomas Keller’s TAK Room and the multiple dining concepts at Neiman Marcus.
“We still need to deliver on Mercado,” says Andrés. “It’s hard work to make back to where we left it. It was successful with great food, but it was a young business.”
He adds: “I have a big challenge ahead, I’m not going to lie. I want to make sure Zaytinya proves it can be replicate—and Bazaar, too. New Yorkers are not fools. And there’s other work to do, too. So I have to be ready.”
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