Celebrity chef out at WWII Museum eatery _lowres

Photo by Ian McNulty - The American Sector restaurant opened inside the National World War II Museum in 2009.

A distinctive partnership that paired one of the city’s hottest chefs with one of its premier tourist attractions will soon come to an end.

The National World War II Museum will not renew its management contract with the Besh Restaurant Group to operate American Sector and the Soda Shop, two restaurants inside the museum’s Warehouse District property.

That contract expires July 31, after which another operator will take over the restaurants’ management, museum spokeswoman Kacey Hill said. She said the museum wasn’t ready to announce the new operator and hasn’t decided if they will keep the same names.

Hill said the decision to switch management was based on a new business model for the museum as major expansions increase its size and the number of visitors who come through its doors.

“We’re looking to the future, and we want to make sure we can serve our visitors,” she said. “The museum is experiencing a great deal of growth. We’re expecting a half a million visitors this year, and along with that our visitor needs have changed.”

Local chef John Besh and his company first opened American Sector inside the museum in late 2009. Though it’s been an integral part of the attraction, museum admission is not required to enter the restaurant, and it has also functioned as a stand-alone draw for Warehouse District residents and other locals. Its daily happy hour has been especially popular with an after-work crowd.

The Soda Shop, an ice cream parlor and snack shop with a retro soda fountain design, debuted in 2011 in a different part of the museum.

For its part, the Besh team was accentuating the positive, with spokeswoman Emery Whalen pointing to recent expansions of its own and alluding to more to come.

“This decision allows the John Besh Restaurant Group to focus on new expansion plans, which we will be announcing shortly,” she said in a written statement.

In April, the Besh Restaurant Group opened Pizza Domenica, an Uptown spin-off of its popular Italian restaurant Domenica in the Central Business District. Also last month, Besh announced a plan to open a new restaurant inside the Horseshoe Casino in Baltimore in partnership with chef and Food Network star Aaron Sanchez. That restaurant, called Johnny Sanchez, is slated to open later this summer and is billed as the chefs’ “first restaurant collaboration.”

Staff at the American Sector and Soda Shop are employed by the museum, not the Besh Restaurant Group, Whalen said, though some who started there have moved to other Besh restaurants. Last year, for instance, former American Sector chef Todd Pulsinelli was named executive chef of Besh’s flagship restaurant, August.

Whalen said any employees at the museum restaurants interested in working for Besh Restaurant Group after the management change would be welcome to apply for jobs.

The National World War II Museum is in the middle of a $325 million expansion that, when completed, will more than quadruple the size of the facility that first opened as the National D-Day Museum in 2000. Its next phase, called “Campaigns of Courage,” is slated to open in December.

Follow Ian McNulty on Twitter, @IanMcNultyNOLA.