A compact kitchen space requires staff to be exceptionally agile and organized as they serve guests gathering in this establishment under the FDR Drive overpass, where they enjoy expansive views of the East River, the Brooklyn and Williamsburg Bridges and the Brooklyn skyline.
One of the more expansive development projects in New York City, the East River Waterfront (ERW) Esplanade transforms a two-mile stretch of long neglected waterfront into an impressive waterfront walkway. The ERW runs from 125th Street in the north to the Battery Maritime Building in the south. To bring such an ambitious, multimillion-dollar plan to fruition, the Department of City Planning teamed with the NYC Economic Development Corporation to get the ball rolling 11 years ago. Lower Manhattan revitalization features include improving waterfront access, enhancing pedestrian connectivity and providing amenities such as recreation and restaurants for local residents, workers and visitors.
One of the ERW Esplanade's newest components, Industry Kitchen, resides on South Street, the main artery beneath the FDR Drive overpass, and intersects with Maiden Lane. The 6,540-square-foot, 300-seat restaurant and bar, leased and operated by Merchants Hospitality, sits a stone's throw from the East River and Pier 15 where cruise ships dock and depart. Also near Industry Kitchen is Watermark Bar, a separate venue that often hosts special events also leased and operated by Merchants Hospitality. Guests sitting indoors and outdoors at Industry Kitchen's restaurant and bar gaze straight ahead out on the East River and Brooklyn skyline. To the left are the Brooklyn and Williamsburg Bridges and the historic South Street Seaport, which is in the midst of a multimillion-dollar overhaul.
Housed in a shell designed by SHoP Architects and featuring eco-friendly interior architecture and design by Wid Chapman Architects, Industry Kitchen derives its inspiration from the seaport's views and industrial setting. "Rather than fighting the intrusion or pretending it isn't there, SHoP embraced the presence of the elevated section of the FDR Drive's structure as a place of activity and incorporated it into a vision for a 21st-century urban park experience," says Catherine E. Jones, project director, SHoP Architects.
"All that existed before Industry Kitchen was built was a shell structure built in 2012 under the FDR Drive, as well as the deck, canopy and windows, all with the purpose of delivering New Yorkers an additional restaurant on South Street Seaport," says Abraham Merchant, president and CEO of Merchants Hospitality. "Without the city's investment to develop the promenade, this type of structure may well have remained derelict."
Nature also played a role in the restaurant and bar's development and certainly its opening. "Hurricane Sandy hit in October 2012, six months after the infrastructure was built," Merchant says. "The storm damaged some of the infrastructure and the mechanical work that had been completed, so the majority of the restaurant construction was delayed for 18 months while repairs were made."
Passersby, looking in from the outside, see an intriguing, angular glass and steel structure with floor-to-ceiling doors that open to the outside patio in nice weather. "In keeping with the industrial setting, the architecture and interior design called for an industrial, raw and authentic approach," says Wid Chapman, owner of Wid Chapman Architects, which provided interior architecture and design for the project. The building's floorplan creates a slight horseshoe shape to incorporate a large steel column supporting the overpass above. The column divides the interior into two connected sections, an exhibition kitchen and dining room on the right and a large freestanding bar and seating on the left. A long concrete panel wall connects and anchors the two areas. The wall also separates guest areas from the kitchen, a unisex bathroom and other back-of-house functions.
"We didn't have many surfaces to manipulate," Chapman says. "The west, north and south sides are essentially left open with glass. Because the East River flows beneath the space and the surface is landfill, we were not permitted to change the epoxy paint floor finish. We did have the ceiling to work with, which is why so much of the texture and drama is there."
The ceiling above the dining room and bar features a floating folded-plane structure of reclaimed oak wood planks from Pennsylvania farms. Massive, custom pendant fixtures inspired by industrial gears hang from the ceiling.
"The second element we could manipulate is the back concrete wall, which in the dining room showcases the kitchen," Chapman says. "We framed the kitchen with handmade, green-glazed tiles and blackened steel." This, along with a marble countertop, creates a view into the exhibition kitchen. Two hefty wood-burning ovens anchor the kitchen, where Marco Arnold, executive chef, and the culinary team emphasize simple preparation techniques to create a menu of modern American cuisine that features as many seasonal ingredients as possible. A wood ledge service counter runs from the south to the north end of the restaurant where marble-encased steel niches house wood logs for the oven.
"The remaining dining area is housed with custom wood plank and steel tables fabricated from the floorboards of old trucks," Chapman says.
At the full-service bar side of the restaurant another folded-plane, wood plank ceiling covers a 50-seat island bar with a zinc top. The 50 saber-like custom pendant light fixtures hang at random angles from the slanted ceiling. Photo courtesy of Merchants Hospitality Inc.; photography by Oleg March
At the full-service bar side of the restaurant, which features a variety of craft beers, wine and signature cocktails, another folded-plane, wood plank ceiling covers a 50-seat island bar with a zinc top. "Carved into the nearby concrete wall, steel-framed wire-mesh cabinets backed with graphic Moroccan tiles add a sense of gravitas to the wine and beer growler storage," Chapman says. "The 50 saber-like custom pendant light fixtures hang at random angles, giving a nod to the angled ceiling."
In response to Merchant's request that people on ships cruising the East River or walking along the promenade see the restaurant in the evening, this cluster of linear lights serves as an attention-grabbing beacon along the waterfront. Another notable feature, floor-to-ceiling windows in the dining room and bar contain air curtains and open up so diners inside feel part of the exterior environment.
Food arrives six days a week at the loading dock on South Street. Staff place food into a walk-in cooler and dry storage consisting of shelving stacked to the ceiling in the kitchen area. Limited storage space requires Arnold and the culinary team to be exceptionally flexible, agile and organized. Also, due to the restaurant's limited storage space, staff use the walk-in cooler on the bar side to store beer and mise en place that they date and rotate to ensure fresh ingredients are used in a timely manner. In addition, undercounter refrigerators and refrigerated drawers sit in the kitchen's prep and exhibition areas.
"With limited storage capacity, we have to get frequent deliveries and maintain exact inventory at all times," Arnold says. Staff frequently climb ladders to place ingredients on shelving or in storage containers.
"There were many challenges we had to overcome with the layout," says Lenny Teller, contract and design department manager at E. Friedman Associates Inc. "Most of the square footage of the space is warmed by a circulating radiant heat system that pumps hot water through flexible tubing embedded in the substrate of the restaurant's floor. Kitchens do require penetrations into the slab that will provide for indirect waste to food prep and other washing areas. These penetrations were not possible due to the radiant heat system. There was a limited area without these radiant heat coils, so the footprint of the kitchen became compact."
Due to the establishment's location over the East River, which flows beneath the space, as well as the radiant heat system, the bar drainage presented a challenge and was difficult to set up. "We had to incorporate pumps hidden in a decorative column that sends the bar equipment's waste water to a designated collection point," Teller says.
In addition to the walk-in cooler and dry storage, the cold prep area contains ingredient bins, overhead racks for utensils, a knife rack, closed shelving for spices, vinegars and oils, and a tiny fryer for making beignets with cinnamon sugar and white chocolate ganache. "Handy access to sinks is vital to the staff's efficiency and the operation's adherence to safety and sanitation standards," Arnold says. After preparation, staff take mise en place to the walk-in cooler at the bar area.
"We must limit the regular menu because of the size of the preparation space," Arnold says. "We expand menu choices for special events."
Also in the prep area, a long worktable holds an induction cooker that staff use to melt chocolate and cook quinoa and complete preproduction. A CO2 system also sits in this area.
In the front exhibition kitchen, one side contains a station containing a cold rail where staff assemble salads, charcuterie and cheese plates. At the adjacent 48-inch, 8-burner sauté station, staff prepare grits, barley succotash for the cedar plank salmon and spicy meat ragout for the pappardelle. A conventional oven beneath the sauté station bakes desserts such as cheesecake and apple pies as well as croutons. Calibrated at 150 degrees F, this oven also warms plates during service. An overhead broiler finishes, quickly bakes or caramelizes other key ingredients and dishes.
An oven sits next to the range. The oven currently runs only on gas but soon staff will be able to fuel it with wood. "This artisan oven was adapted for us to be a grill," Arnold says. Staff use the grill to make roasted portobello mushrooms served in clay pots with Italian sausages and caponata sauce, roasted chicken over lemon, cedar plank salmon, grilled shrimp and Black Angus sirloin steak.
An adjacent wood-burning oven, which burns wood stored inside the dining area, remains at about 700 degrees F to cook 250 pizzas daily for about two and a half minutes each. Pizza accounts for approximately 28 percent of the restaurant's orders.
Sitting on a counter across an aisle from the oven, staff use a spiral dough mixer, dough divider/rounder and dough press to prepare 150 pounds of the flour mixture into perfectly formed spheres. The dough begins as a natural leaven, which slowly ferments to develop all the natural flavors. Staff top the dough spheres with combinations of sauce, burrata and other ingredients that sit in wells inset into a granite counter to the right of the dough press. Ingredients such a shrimp, salmon, skirt steak and chicken breast are first grilled and next added as ingredients. After baking them quickly, staff drizzle olive oil over the ingredients to enhance the flavor.
Also along this side of the exhibition kitchen, a granite counter contains a cold rail that holds ingredients for pizza and entrées. Refrigerated drawers beneath also hold ingredients.
After cooking and assembling menu items, staff move them to pass-thru areas on counters and shelving. The expediter usually stands at the pass-thru area. Servers remain on the guest side in order to expedite service and not interfere with production staff.
After clearing tables, staff bring soiled dishes, glasses and serviceware to a pass-thru in a wall separating the kitchen from the dishroom. This setup allows runners to come into the kitchen space with bus boxes without interfering with production staff. It also prevents customers from seeing into the dishwashing area. For dishwashing, a small room contains a dishwasher and pot sinks, keeping cross-traffic to a minimum here as well as in the kitchen areas.
On the opposite side of Industry Kitchen, the full-service bar offers a variety of traditional and craft beers, which are held in the dedicated beer cooler nearby, as well as signature cocktails and an extensive collection of wines. The bar equipment allows staff to service a large customer base in a tight area. An automatic glass washer sits in this area to enable staff to be as efficient as possible during peak and slower traffic periods.
"Energy efficiency was included in the request for proposal," Merchant says. "We're conserving as much water as possible and have variable-speed controls on the HVAC system so air conditioning and heating is only working when needed."
"Much care was also taken to prevent food cooking vapors from the open display kitchen from escaping into public areas," Chapman adds. "The kitchen exhaust system was designed to be highly efficient with supply air to balance air pressure." Two air scrubbers, spanning about 20 feet by 6 feet, sit between the girders and roof to bring in and exhaust the air.
Lighting in the establishment includes LED and halogen light sources. "LED lights are energy efficient and last longer than conventional lighting, but we can't use them throughout the restaurant because they don't dim well and dimming is important during the evening hours."
As staff become more accustomed to working in Industry Kitchen, they continue to find more efficient methods to stay organized and agile during high-peak traffic times. As residents, workers and visitors discover this beacon, they're also discovering another part of the city that opens up new vistas and culinary treasures.
Marco Arnold, executive chef at Industry Kitchen, joined the restaurant in 2014. His culinary roots date back to his childhood when, as a young boy in Israel, he loved to cook. While pursuing his education at La Cordon Bleu Paris and other courses in Jerusalem, London and Florence, Italy, he worked at the Hilton Hotel in Tel Aviv, Israel, Avant Garde in Tel Aviv, Alle Murate Restaurant in Florence, Cafeteria Restaurant in Manhattan, Fig & Olive in Manhattan and Vai Restaurant in Amsterdam.
Photo courtesy of Wid Chapman Architects
Wid Chapman, AIA, the founder and owner of Wid Chapman Architects, is a former chair of the interior design department of Parsons School of Design, where he currently serves on its senior faculty. He has guest lectured on hospitality design in the United States and internationally, and his practice designs globally. In New York City, the firm's projects include Watermark, Elixir juice bars and Black Hound Bar & Lounge. Industry Kitchen is the firm's 10th restaurant/bar project for Merchants Hospitality. Wid Chapman Architects is also a preferred designer for Starwood Hotels and Resorts.
Abraham Merchant, president and CEO of Merchants Hospitality Inc., founded the full-service company in 1986. Merchants Hospitality Inc. and its principals have owned, operated and developed luxurious destinations in the United States and the Caribbean. Merchant serves as managing director to each restaurant and Merchants Hospitality's affiliated properties. Merchant helped rebuild (and restore confidence in rebuilding) in the downtown Manhattan community after September 11, 2001, and again after Hurricane Sandy in 2012. Merchant's earlier projects include Philippe by Philippe Chow, Clinton Hall, SouthWest NY, Merchants NY Cigar Bar, Neely's Barbecue Parlor, Merchants River House, Pound & Pence, Watermark Bar and Oaxaca Mexican Grill.
Lenny Teller, contract and design department manager at E. Friedman Associates, brings nearly 40 years of experience to his position. He joined this firm 20 years ago and was named an FE&S DSR of the Month in 2007. Teller's industry involvement includes all types of foodservice operations from restaurants to hotels. Prior to joining E. Friedman Associates, he served as kitchen equipment contractor for two large equipment dealers.