The pandemic has devastated the restaurant industry and the new Omicron wave continues to darken the picture, but there have been some bright spots for a lucky few.
For Chef Franklin Becker, business is good – and the growth has been life-changing after the 52-year-old met his new wife, Melissa, 51, on a dating app a month before lockdown. She now works with him on new business development.
“I have mixed feelings about the pandemic. I wish it never happened. Many people lost their lives. But it also shed light on what is important in life — family, community and friends,” Becker said.
Business also accelerated for Becker. During the pandemic, Little Beet — a chain of healthy fast-food eateries that Becker founded in 2013 — closed but gobbled up Le Pain Quotidien and Maison Kaiser and is now reopening after a restructuring. Becker’s online healthy grocery store, Hungryroot.com, also grew at an “accelerated” pace. It’s now valued at $750 million and set to go public, Becker tells Side Dish.
Now, Becker has also cooked up two new restaurants that are slated to open this spring — an Upper East Side seafood spot, Uptown Trout, and an “old school” American chophouse-style eatery, The Press Club Grill, by Herald Square, Side Dish can reveal exclusively.
“Unfortunately the pandemic devastated our industry,” Becker said. “It created a tremendous number of supply-chain issues, which led to higher costs for goods, which will lead to higher costs for the customers – along with labor shortages, and endless other issues.”
He was able to secure a “core” team and keep them on board through the height of the pandemic thanks to an innovative new profit-sharing plan and other incentives. Also, he said, “I was able to grab opportunity when it presented itself and go after locations and different things that other people didn’t have the means to do.”
Becker’s F. Becker Hospitality has partnered with Seasoned Hospitality’s Stephen Loffredo and Tora Matsuoka to open Uptown Trout and the Press Club Grill.
Until 2012, Becker helmed Catch, Lexington Brass and the now shuttered Abe and Arthur’s, as executive corporate chef for the EMM Group, now known as the Catch Hospitality Group.
Now his own seafood restaurant, Uptown Trout, will focus on local seafood. The 2,500-square-foot restaurant will seat 72 people and open inside the revamped Franklin Hotel, at 164 East 87th St., in late April or May.
The hotel never had a restaurant, so the entire buildout is from scratch.
“The pandemic slowed down construction. We’re putting in an entire kitchen and restaurant,” Becker said.
Meanwhile, the Press Club Grill is slated to open by June. The 9,000-square-foot space takes up two floors and will seat 180 guests inside the Martinique New York hotel at Broadway and 32nd Street.
The concept, Becker said, is “old-school” New York, continental American, with some theatrical tableside prepared dishes — like steak Diane, steak tartare and ceasar salad, as well as some seafood.
Becker says he is taking his inspiration from the city itself.
“It’s old New York meets new New York,” Becker said. “Herald Square was the center for the newspaper world — it was a place where sports and entertainment met. The restaurant will draw back to old sensibilities, when dining was a little more sophisticated, when you could bump elbows in the same dining room with a heavyweight fighter and musicians from nearby Madison Square Garden,” he said.
The menu will draw on his industry experience over the years. And it will also be an homage to his mother, who died less than two weeks ago.
“She made the best matzoh ball soup, with homemade kneidlachs [a type of dumpling], and that will also be on the menu,” Becker said.
Last year, Becker also opened a 5,000-square-foot marketplace food hall by Columbia University’s West Harlem campus, designed by architect Glen Coben. The complex includes a full-service Spanish tapas restaurant, Oliva, just named the best New Year’s Day brunch spot by Eater.
During lockdown, Becker also launched 100 Pleats, a foodie app he hoped would be like an Uber for chefs.
A restaurant that shut down during the pandemic, Upper East Side staple, T-Bar, has found a new home nearby on East 60th St., between Park and Lexington Avenues. It expects to open early spring, says Tony Fortuna, T-Bar’s owner with partner Derek Axelrod.
In other opening news, Masalawala, at 365 Fifth Avenue in Brooklyn’s Park Slope — from restaurateur Roni Mazumdar and Chef Chintan Pandya – will open next month.
The 2,500-square-foot spot will have an additional 700-square-foot backyard. There will be 55 seats inside. The eatery will feature foods from their hometown of Kolkata, India, along with an upfront retail market selling spice blends and other specialty Indian products.
There’s also Momoya SoHo, at 47 Prince Street, from owner KwangHo Lee and head sushi chef/partner Watura Makai, which will also open in February. The 3,000-square-foot bi-level space at the corner of Prince and Mulberry will feature a first-level with a wine and sake bar with cocktails by Alex Ott, and a 12-seat sushi bar that seats 30. Upstairs will seat an additional 30 people. There will also be around 55 outdoor seats.
In addition, Dante, the beloved West Village restaurant and bar — named the best bar in North America in 2019 and 2020 — is opening its seasonal pop-up, Dante Winter House, at Pearl Alley on Pier 17 at the South Street Seaport. That’s in addition to its Aspen cocktail pop-up at The Snow Lodge.
Now Dante Winter House will have a coffee bar, as well as the Dante Bar, with its signature cocktails, including boozy coffee and hot smoked toddy all served in mobile cups, along with the Negroni Bar.
There will also be two food trucks — one serving flatbreads, like the Verde, with spicy lamb sausage, mozzarella and arugula, and the Bianco, with pancetta, leeks, provolone and thyme, while another is centered around affogatos.
The Dante Winter House pop-up, which launched Monday, is 10,500 square feet and comes with 230 seats, plus 10 at the bar.
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