Lauded chef Alon Shaya will open two new restaurants dishing out modern Israeli cuisine this spring. Shaya’s company, Pomegranate Hospitality, will open Saba in Uptown New Orleans and Safta in the soon-to-open Source Hotel in Denver, Colorado, according to a press release. Zachary Engel is the culinary director at both restaurants. No word yet on the exact location of the New Orleans restaurant.
And — yes — the NOLA restaurant will have “wood fired pita bread baked steps from the table will soak up the flavors of Bulgaria, Yemen, Syria, Morocco, Turkey, Palestine and Greece” that Alon Shaya is known for.
Alon Shaya chose New Orleans for his restaurant because it’s his “home and community,” he told NOLA.COM. He chose Denver after he met Mickey and Kyle Zeppelin, owners of Source Hotel at the Aspen Food & Wine Classic, according to 5280. He returned to Colorado to judge an episode of Top Chef Colorado that took place at another of the Zepellins’ establishments a few weeks later. Then, the Zepellins proposed the idea to him and he “jumped on it.”
The fact that neither of the new restaurants will bear his name is a big deal since since he has been involved in a contentious court battle with John Besh’s restaurant group over the rights to his surname, Shaya. Saba means “grandfather” in Hebrew and Safta means “grandmother.”
According to NOLA.COM, if Alon Shaya prevails in his legal battle with John Besh’s restaurant group over the rights to his surname, he does not plan to rename the restaurants.
Should Alon Shaya abandon or fail in his efforts to regain the rights to his name from John Besh, this would mean that Uptown New Orleans would have two modern Israeli restaurants — one called Saba with Alon Shaya at the helm, and one called Shaya without any involvement from Alon Shaya. (In these type battles, the chefs usually get the short end of the stick.)
The lawsuit over the name grew out of a high-profile split between the two parties. Alon Shaya claims he was fired from the three restaurants (Shaya, Domenica, Pizza Domenica) he helmed under the Besh umbrella for speaking to Brett Anderson at NOLA.COM for a story about a culture of sexual harassment at Besh’s restaurant group, now called BRG Hospitality. BRG disputes this claim and has moved to dismiss the wrongful termination suit.
According to Food and Wine, Alon Shaya will focus on “making his restaurants safe, transparent and organized,” in what seems to be a response to the allegations that are currently encumbering BRG, where Alon Shaya previously worked. While no allegations have been made against Alon Shaya personally, the restaurants he helmed were not immune to sexual harassment allegations. Nor were the restaurants helmed by Shannon White, who took Besh’s place at BRG, notes NOLA.COM.
Alon Shaya says that the last five months gave him a lot of time to ruminate on that culture and consider how to change it, which he plans to do through quarterly “culture training” for example.