From physical expansions to spin-offs to a high-profile second concept, ambitious chefs are finding different ways to expand while keeping the dining options coming.
Open a burger joint or coffee shop and the path to expansion can be as clear as a roadmap: find a good location and replicate.
But for more ambitious chef-driven restaurants, the process can be more complicated. The chefs have a certain brand to project, though at the same time their next restaurants must be distinct enough to have their own appeal. Well, the ever-growing New Orleans restaurants scene keeps giving us more, and more varied, examples of how to pull it off.
Chef Donald Link has shown one successful avenue, opening four very different restaurants with his co-chefs and business partners within the same close radius downtown. In fact, Butcher, his deli/sandwich shop/small plates bar, just completed an actual physical expansion, growing into the adjacent building to triple its size, add elbow room and open new possibilities in the kitchen.
Chef John Besh seems to have mastered his own expansion recipe, often partnering with up-and-coming chefs to create each new restaurant’s own identity. His latest project, Pizza Domenica, takes a spin-off approach, distilling down some of the most popular components of his restaurant Domenica and bringing them Uptown. This new iteration on casual Italian focuses on pizza from wood burning ovens abetted by salads and small plates.
A bolder example of how chefs can grow is Square Root, where chef Phillip Lopez and his partners are betting New Orleans will be willing to dine by a different set of rules.
Lopez is the chef at the Warehouse District restaurant Root, where since 2011 he’s served an intensely modern menu worked through high-tech kitchen tools and artful compositions. Organ meat, vegetable ash and even cigar smoke — they’re all part of the unorthodox toolbox for Root’s kitchen. For Square Root, he’s applying similar culinary principles to a tasting-menu-only format.
With just 16 seats, and just two seatings per night, each customer at Square Root has a ringside perch next to the open kitchen, which serves a meal of between 12 and 15 small courses each night at a set price — and it’s a hefty one. The idea is a put the entire dining experience in the chef’s hands, and allow him to navigate. There’s an elaborate online reservation system and a raft of rules for cancelations and late arrivals. It’s a high concept model, one that’s a fixture in some other larger cities, but a much less familiar prospect here in New Orleans.
But, Square Root does have another option for those who may be curious but, perhaps, not yet ready to chisel in a hard reservation. The second floor lounge, dubbed Root Squared, serves charcuterie and drinks, and it’s open for drop-in business.
What’s most amazing to me about these three restaurant expansions is that the bigger Butcher, the Uptown Pizza Domenica and Square Root each opened within just a day of each other late last month. It brings up a delicate point for those of us trying to keep tabs on the New Orleans dining scene. After all, if the new restaurants keep coming at this pace, chefs won’t be the only ones expanding.
930 Tchoupitoulas St., 504-588-7675; www.cochonbutcher.com
123 Baronne St., 504-648-6020; www.domenicarestaurant.com
4933 Magazine St., 504-301-4978; www.pizzadomenica.com
1800 Magazine St., 504-309-7800; www.squarerootnola.com