A number of high-profile chefs opened new outposts during 2015 to answer the question, What’s next? Clearly, part of the answer was “more chef-driven fast-casual concepts.” Meanwhile, standout chains continued to grow geographically, and Taco Bell uncorked a possible new restaurant line for the home of the chalupa.
Here’s a look at those and other 2015 restaurant openings worth noting.
Swift & Sons made its debut in October on the ground floor of Google’s Chicago headquarters, a repurposed cold-storage building. The high-end steakhouse is the latest from the Boka Group, the operators of Girl & the Goat, Balena, Boka and other crowd-pleasers. Entrees range from $29 to $105. This month, a restaurant-within-a restaurant—a small seafood concept called Cold Storage—opened inside Swift & Sons.
The next Next?
Another prolific Chicago restaurant group, Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises, opened Intro in the space formerly occupied by L20, LEYE’s high-end seafood restaurant. Every few months, Intro welcomes a different chef-in-residence, giving him or her free reign of the kitchen and a chance to incubate ideas.
Danny Meyer’s first Chicago venture
Late summer saw the first foray of Union Square Hospitality Group’s Danny Meyer into Chicago. GreenRiver, a partnership between Meyer and the duo who run the award-winning Dead Rabbit bar in New York, is housed on the top floor of a medical building, but both the bar and restaurant attract a broad audience.
Meanwhile, back in his hometown…
Danny Meyer also has been busy this year in New York City. His polished-casual Untitled opened in the new Whitney Museum building downtown, with Gramercy Tavern executive chef Michael Anthony orchestrating the menu. And Porchlight is Union Square Hospitality’s first standalone bar, located near the popular High Line elevated park.
Jonathan Waxman brings back Jams
Jonathan Waxman, chef-owner of Barbuto, reincarnated Jams, the restaurant he ran in the ’80s that’s recognized for bringing California cuisine to New York City. This 21st-century rendition promises to be a "modern interpretation" of the original. Waxman also expanded to Nashville in 2015, opening Adele’s in June.
Laurent Tourondel tries Italian
Laurent Tourondel, who made his mark with the BLT mini-empire of bistros, left that indy group several years ago to man the kitchens of other French-inspired restaurants. Now he is at the helm of L’Amico—an Italian-influenced American eatery—turning out pastas, wood-fired pizzas and rustic meat dishes.
More chefs go fast-casual
Chef-driven fast casuals continue to trend, as evidenced by two top toques taking the plunge. David Chang of Momofuku fame stepped into the fast-casual arena with Fuku, a spot selling spicy fried chicken sandwiches and fries. Lines were out the door when the first location opened in New York City’s East Village neighborhood in June; a second, Fuku+ followed in late fall in midtown Manhattan. Chang also has been busy in Washington, D.C., launching CCDC, a full-service Asian restaurant patterned after Momofuku.
Jose Andres makes his veg-only
Also in our nation’s capital, chef-restaurateur Jose Andres debuted Beefsteak, a plant-based fast casual with two locations and a third in the works. But Andres hasn’t abandoned his fine-dining pedigree, planning a New York City location of Bazaar in 2016, according to a ThinkFoodGroup spokesperson.
But high-end chefs haven’t been idle
Some other well-known chefs have developed new restaurants that opened in the past year. They include Ludo Lefevre (Petit Trois in L.A.) John Besh (co-owner of Shaya in New Orleans), Alain Ducasse (Rivea in Las Vegas) and L.A.’s Jon Shook and Vinny Dotolo, the guys who put Animal on the map, opened Jon & Vinny’s, a red-sauce Italian spot, in April.
Food halls Europeanize American cities
In the tradition of Asian and European countries, food halls now are proliferating in American cities. Among the biggest and newsiest to open in 2015 are Ponce City Market in Atlanta, home to restaurants and food stalls by such big-name chefs as Sean Brock and Anne Quatrano, and Latinicity in Chicago, created by restaurateurs Richard Sandoval and Jose Garces.
Niche brands find more roosts
Several “niche” chains stretched their reach in 2015. Nando’s, the South African concept famous for its peri-peri chicken, moved westward from its Washington, D.C. stronghold to establish two outposts in Chicago. Sweetgreen went even further west, digging roots in the L.A. area with two new units and ShopHouse, Chipotle’s build-your-own Asian concept, set up shop at two locations in Chicagoland. Also new to Chicago and Yum! Brands is Taco Bell Cantina, a Taco Bell with booze and upgraded midnight snacks.
Some of the more senior members of the team smile at the junior staff who are excited to uncover an interesting trend in “eatertainment” or the latest single-ingredient concept. We try not to be condescending when we suggest they do some research by looking at past issues of Restaurant Business or old Technomic top chain reports before calling it the next big thing.