Chef Alon Shaya has been dribbling out the news about his forthcoming Israeli restaurant like olive oil over hummus, and the latest dollop also marks the end for a once-promising Uptown restaurant.
Shaya's company Pomegranate Hospitality confirmed the news, as did Kenton's proprietors Mani Dawes and Sean Josephs.
Kenton's will serve its last dinner on March 18. After that, Shaya's company will take over its lease. Saba is slated to open there sometime this spring following a renovation.
Josephs said that while they felt welcomed and at home in their New Orleans restaurant, Kenton's wasn't meeting its financial goals. Knowing it had to close, the couple worked behind the scenes to find another restaurateur to take over the space.
“If there’s one thing we’re proud of, we created a path to protect our investors,” Josephs said in an interview. “We protected the people who believed in us.”
Josephs and Dawes each run restaurants in New York (his: Maysville; hers: Tia Pol). They opened Kenton's in 2015 in a newly-built complex at Magazine Street and Nashville Avenue. It was part of their family's homecoming (Dawes grew up nearby) and opened with a lavish bourbon collection and a Southern menu synced to the flavors of smoke and char.
For his part, Shaya said in a statement that "this process has been like changing hands from one friend to another. We look forward to firing up some pita and celebrating the culinary heritage of Israel in our new home."
That new home is about a mile up Magazine Street from the modern Israel restaurant that still bears his name, Shaya Restaurant.
Last week, Shaya first announced he planned to open Saba (Hebrew for grandfather), without revealing its address, along with a second restaurant in Denver, called Safta (Hebrew for grandmother). Both will serve contemporary Israeli cuisine, a blend of Middle Eastern flavors with other influences from the global Jewish diaspora.
The forthcoming restaurants will be under the umbrella of Pomegranate Hospitality, the culinary company Shaya formed last fall after a high-profile split with his former boss and business partner John Besh.
The news comes amid a months-long battle for the rights to the name of Shaya Restaurant.
Alon Shaya was previously the chef and a partner at Shaya, as well as at Domenica and Pizza Domenica. All three restaurants were developed by BRG Hospitality, the company formerly called the Besh Restaurant Group and created by Besh and business partner Octavio Mantilla.
In October, Alon Shaya filed trademark requests to use the name Shaya. The Besh group filed suit blocking him. In the next round, Alon Shaya asked the court to instead prohibit the Besh group from using the name. He requested an injunction that would strip the name from Shaya Restaurant while the dispute makes its way through court. A pretrial conference for the case is still nearly a year away, set for Jan. 8. A judge denied that injunction earlier this month, essentially allowing Besh's company to continue using the name Shaya Restaurant.
Shaya worked for BRG for years, rising in the ranks to become executive chef and partner in the three restaurants. He racked up a trophy case of culinary accolades, including a slew of coveted James Beard awards. Alon Shaya himself won the James Beard regional award for Best Chef: South in 2015. In 2016, the restaurant Shaya won the national award for Best New Restaurant. Last year, Zach Engel, then Shaya Restaurant's chef de cuisine, won the group’s national award for Rising Star Chef of the Year.
He was fired from Besh's company in September. A month later, a newspaper investigation documented accusations by numerous female employees of sexual misconduct by Besh and Mantilla and alleged a hostile work environment.
Soon after Alon Shaya's split with Besh, Engel left BRG to join his former boss at Pomegranate Hospitality. He is now culinary director and will oversee Saba in New Orleans and Safta in Denver. Sean Courtney, formerly general manager of Shaya Restaurant, is now operations director for Pomegranate Hospitality.