I have made the decision to close Empellón Cocina.
Our last service will be on Saturday the 20th.
This has been been contemplated for a while now, but I did not announce it sooner because this is not an ending or “death” of the concept. When people hear about a closing they often become annoyingly sentimental and try to show up and “pour one out” as they say.
This is not the tale of a greedy landlord or a rent hike amidst new developments like the ones we sadly read about all too often these days. Our lease is in fact up with an option to renew but we would rather close up shop and begin looking for a new location.
Over the past 6 years, the agenda of Empellón has become increasingly transparent to me. We are dedicated to having a collection of 4 restaurants in our home town, each marked with a color, each with unique attributes that are apparent, differentiated and wanted. We are also dedicated to the continued progression and refinement throughout the lifespan of each concept.
Cocina was originally envisioned as a fine dining restaurant in the true sense of that term. Out of ego, the restaurant was executed in a very fast and cavalier way. (It was serving customers when our first restaurant in the West Village was only 11 months old). Taqueria was profitable in week 2 which is unheard of in this business. We took the money and doubled down fast and hard. There wasn't what I would call a solid plan in place retrospectively.
At the time, I was not thinking like a restauranteur. To give an example, we had bought these fancy custom white leather chairs. Once we received them and saw them set up in the actual dining room (which is on 1st avenue across the street from a McDonalds and a Dunkin Donuts) my heart sunk and I realized I was on the verge of a massive mistake. It all felt wildly incorrect.
We pivoted right before we opened and attempted to create a more casual place. (We lost a lot of money on those fancy chairs)
It's been five years of business for us now. The menu has gone through many iterations and so has the dining room. We have had some really awesome friends cook with us and we have certainly felt our fair share of love to date.
Frank Bruni wrote a profile about us and the opening of Cocina in 2012 which set it sailing right from the onset.
A couple years back we renovated with the intent of making the place a bit homier. We also took this opportunity to carve out a little place to launch a new tasting menu. With caution that time around, we wanted to see if anyone was willing to sit down to a long, expensive, tasting menu inspired by my personal impressions of another cuisine. The experiment has given us sufficient data to cue a segue.
Fine dining is still very much in my heart and I still very badly want to build the Empellón version of it one day. Tacos, tasting counters, etc. were never meant to be a departure but more of entry points into our own unique thing. Our newest place is by far the most polished but there is still another rung in the ladder that we must reach in order to span our own full gamut.
Now that we have opened Empellón I feel, with as much objectivity as I can muster, that the current a la carte dining room at 105 1st avenue has become irrelevant.
The skeleton of the space is excellent but not appropriate for the Cocina that I have built in my mind. Our next steps are the following:
+We are going to begin looking for a new and perfect place for Cocina to return.
+All of our people will be moving to join and strengthen our midtown, west village and St. Marks teams.
+We are moving our tasting table to Empellón at 510 Madison Avenue toward the back end of this year where it will remain. This move will provide the added upside of doubling the seat count from 4 to 8 as well as allowing us offer all of this during both lunch and dinner across a full 7 day week.
It's simply a story about becoming a very critical editor of your own work that I don't want to get misconstrued. It's also about trying to claw your way toward something and not giving up. When I left wd~50, it was during a market crisis. No one with money was investing. Certainly not in fine dining, and especially not in an experimental white pastry chef trying to pivot toward all of this. The taco/casual thing became the logical sell. That was the entry point into all this. It's all a big part of me now. Learn from the past, concern yourself with the present and focus on the future.