A (local) update on the French restaurant coming to Greenwich

After I did a quick post on the French restaurant coming to 412 Greenwich in the former Dig Inn space at Laight (and thanks to C. for keeping me on that), the owners got in touch. Turns out they are Tribecans — well-traveled finance folk who have partnered with another local couple to bring what they hope is a better business model (and really good food) to the neighborhood. L’Abeille will be 54 seats with 12 at the bar, an open kitchen and a six-course fixed price option. They are aiming for March 1.

And of course the story comes with a small world happenstance that eventually brought the whole thing together.

Rahul Saito and his husband, Howard Chang, travel extensively and have lived all over the world, but New York City seems to be the common denominator. Add to that their dedication to Joël Robuchon’s restaurants not just in Paris but also New York and Tokyo, so during the pandemic, they decided to support one of their favorite chefs from Shun by inviting him to cook for them during the lockdown. As things opened up in late 2020, they invited another couple and then another, eventually settling into weekly dinners for eight with the chef, Mitsu Nagae.

That’s where it started.

“He would toss together these amazing dishes, and we thought, hmm, not a bad idea,” said Rahul. The four of them — the other two partners are Sean and Nanae McHugh — are all passionate about food but are also hoping to bring a new, more sustainable business model to the table with fairer wages and less grueling schedules. And Nanae is a registered sommelier.

(The small world story: Rahul and Howard were at the sushi bar at Jado in Harlem and got chatting with the woman next to them. It turned out they had all lived in Hong Kong and realized that they had lived in the same building, overlapping for a year. That was Nanae. And as it turned out, they all now live in Tribeca.)

Chef Mitsu was born in Tokyo and trained in France; his first gig was at the three-starred Château Restaurant Joël Robuchon in Tokyo after graduation in 2008. While they loved his cooking that he did in the apartment, they tested him to make sure he could also manage a kitchen and manage food costs. And they learned he had worked with both meat and fish as well as pastry. “That’s extremely rare and compelling.” Also Mitsu means honey in Japanese, hence “l’abeille” — the bee.

There are some other pandemic perks. The rent is lower than it would have been two years ago, meaning the idea is more feasible. It will be “elegant and sophisticated” but still simple and casual — no jackets. And they know now that a restaurant has to be successful with the locals, not just a destination.

“We want this to be a neighborhood place,” Rahul said. “The restaurants that survived the pandemic were heavily supported by their neighbors. We want people to come in not just for a grand experience but also for a quick bite.”

 

5 Comments

  1. I wish them luck!

  2. Great story of individuals crossing tracks to join forces – Shining star in a gray building, talent back in the hood.

  3. Quite the heartwarming story of a few average neighborhood folks who hired a Robuchon chef to be their personal at home cook during a pandemic, then decided to get together and open a restaurant with the same chef when restaurant spaces were cheap.

    I’m also pleased to hear that they didn’t employ the chef based on the months privately cooking in their home, but still put him through some tests to make sure he could also manage their restaurant.

  4. It great to see people making things happen. Good luck.

  5. Welcome and look forward!

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