Leadership

Saga Hospitality Group's James Kent dies unexpectedly at age 45

Officials say the cause of death was a heart attack. The executive chef of New York concepts Crown Shy, Saga and Overstory had a number of projects in the works and seemed at the top of his game.
James Kent
James Kent on a terrace of the building that housed the acclaimed restaurants Crown Shy and Saga, as well as the cocktail bar Overstory. |Photo courtesy of Evan Sung/Saga Hospitality Group.

New York chef and restaurateur Jamal “James” Kent died unexpectedly of a heart attack on Saturday. He was 45.

His death was announced by Saga Hospitality Group on Instagram over the weekend. The group’s New York restaurants Crown Shy, Saga and Overstory were closed on Sunday. Officials confirmed the cause of death on Monday.

“We are heartbroken to share that James Kent passed away unexpectedly earlier today,” the post said. “The Saga Hospitality Group family is focused on supporting each other and most importantly Kelly, Gavin and Avery (Kent’s wife and two children) as we grieve James’ loss.”

A Michelin-starred chef, Kent was seemingly at the top of his game, as the executive chef of Crown Shy in New York's Financial District, his first solo project, as well as Saga and Overstory.

Kent began his career at the restaurant Bouley, working with famed chef David Bouley. According to The New York Times, his mother made him knock on the door of the restaurant at age 14 to ask if he could spend time in the kitchen, and he was invited to spend a summer working there when he was just 15.

He later trained at Le Cordon Bleu and Johnson & Wales, and worked at the restaurants Babbo and Jean-Georges before joining Eleven Madison Park, where he was chef de cuisine and earned four stars from The New York Times and three Michelin stars, among other accolades. He was promoted to executive chef of NoMad in 2013, which also earned a Michelin star.

Kent was also a first-place winner of the U.S. Bocuse d'Or competition in 2010, and he represented the U.S. in the international competition the following year in Lyon, France, where he placed 10th in the world.

Crown Shy launched in 2019 on the ground floor of an Art Deco skyscraper and within six months the restaurant had earned a Michelin star. About 18 months later, despite pandemic delays, he opened Saga in the same building on the 63rd floor in 2021. Saga won two Michelin stars the next year. Overstory, a cocktail bar, is on the building's 64th floor and this year was named one of the World's 50 Best Bars.

Saga Hospitality Group is a partnership with private-equity platform SC Holdings, which also owns the small amusement park on the Santa Monica Pier and earlier this month unveiled Snackville, with culinary concepts reworked by Kent.

Kent also had big plans with NBA great LeBron James, whose investment firm LRMR Ventures had invested in plans for a number of projects, from fine dining to a fast-casual chicken sandwich concept, according to a recent profile in Robb Report. James’ and Maverick Carter’s company SpringHill Company also has ties to SC Holdings.

The partners were working on an as-yet-unnamed fine-dining restaurant near Eleven Madison Park. It was described as paying homage to Grand Central Oyster Bar and other classic New York venues. Kent’s goal was to make reference to his grandmother, Sue Mingus, who married jazz great Charles Mingus. They had their first date at Grand Central Oyster Bar, according to Robb Report.

Saga Hospitality Group, however, did not comment on those reports. The company confirmed it plans to open a restaurant this fall at 360 Park Avenue South in New York, but no details were given. Saga Hospitality Group is also planning to launch a retail outlet in the former Domino Sugar Factory, which is undergoing a $2.5 billion renovation on the Brooklyn waterfront.

In addition, Kent was an active support of programs seeking to eradicate child hunger, including No Kid Hungry and ReThink Food. He has twice co-chaired the annual Chef's Benefit dinner for Cookies for Kids Cancer, and he was a mentor for Ment d'Or, a program devoted to inspiring culinary excellence in young professionals.

The news of Kent’s death prompted an outpouring of grief within the culinary community, with chefs from Edouardo Jordan, Tom Colicchio and Grant Achatz posting tributes on social media.

“I am heartbroken,” wrote Dominique Crenn. “The world won’t be the same without you.”

Chef and restaurateur Daniel Boulud wrote that he has known Kent since his early years at Eleven Madison Park "and was so proud of his evolution, talent, ambition, determination and accomplishments. His artistic creativity, energy and generosity was an inspiration to his team and to us all."

Union Square Hospitality Group, which operated Eleven Madison Park when Kent was there, also offered this tribute.

 

This story has been updated to include more information from Saga Hospitality Group. 

 

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