New Orleans chef Alon Shaya is putting two new names into the restaurant landscape, even as he battles for his personal namesake.
The James Beard Award-winning chef announced two new projects in the works for the coming year in a release issued today. The first, called Saba, will open in New Orleans' Uptown area sometime this spring.
The location remains under wraps, but the approach will be familiar to fans of the popular Shaya Restaurant. Saba, which is the Hebrew word for grandfather, will pay homage to the contemporary cuisine of Israel.
"With influences that stem from the Middle East, Europe and North Africa, Saba will reflect a collection of moments where food and culture have crossed paths, offering a taste of this ever-evolving cuisine," according to the release.
The chef also plans to open a second eatery in Denver, Colorado later in the spring called Safta, which is Hebrew for grandmother. This restaurant will also call on Shaya's cultural roots for a modern take on Israeli cuisine, according to the release.
The forthcoming restaurants will be the first from 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, the acclaimed modern Israeli restaurant on Magazine Street that Alon Shaya once led.
Alon Shaya, the chef who made his name synonymous with modern Israeli cuisine in New Orleans, is now doing business under a different name.
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.
More recently, though, he has been in a legal fight with BRG over the use of the name Shaya.
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.
Safta will be part of the Source Hotel, which is taking shape in Denver's River North Arts District, an area rife with redevelopment. The hotel is adjacent to a food marketplace also called the Source, created by the same developer.
Less has been revealed about Saba, though in its release Pomegranate Hospitality noted chef de cuisine Cara Peterson will oversee the menu. Another Shaya Restaurant alum, she was previously executive sous chef there and earlier was pastry chef at Zahav, another acclaimed modern Israeli restaurant in Philadelphia.
In a sketch of what's to come, Pomegranate hospitality gave clues that Saba's approach would be similar to Shaya Restaurant's style. "Wood fired pita bread baked steps from the table will soak up the flavors of Bulgaria, Yemen, Syria, Morocco, Turkey, Palestine and Greece to name a few," according to the release.
From its start back in 2015, Shaya Restaurant's menu has revolved around piping hot pita bread from a wood-burning oven prominently placed in the dining room. The kitchen draws on the historic roots of Israeli cooking and the cultural interplay that has accelerated there since the creation the modern state. In practice, that's meant staple Middle Eastern flavors alongside influences the broad Jewish diaspora brought back to Israel.
Last year, Shaya formed the Shaya Barnett Foundation, a nonprofit aimed at culinary education for high school students. The chef will also soon have a cookbook and memoir on the stacks. “Shaya, an Odyssey of Food, My Journey Back to Israel” is slated for release in March by Knopf.
A federal judge on Wednesday denied chef Alon Shaya's request for a preliminary injunction prohibiting his former employer, Besh Restaurant Gr…