"We have housing for 125 people, all in East Hampton. It's going to be like a reality TV show."
That's Will Guidara, co-owner of Eleven Madison Park, which was voted the best restaurant in the world this year by the World's 50 Best awards. He's talking about where his highly trained staff, known for their next-level hospitality, will be spending the summer: out in East Hampton, manning the restaurant's summer pop-up. Tomorrow kicks off the 10-week run of the EMP Summer House, and we get a sneak peek at what it takes to set up an operation of this caliber.
Back in NYC, the restaurant has closed down for renovations led by designer and EMP regular Brad Cloepfil, the creative behind Saint Louis's Contemporary Art Museum and NYC's Museum of Arts and Design. He plans to open up the entrance, add color to the rooms and increase the size of the bar area to make it more inviting and, ideally, a spot for regulars like himself. But shutting down entirely for the summer wasn't an option. "When we decided to close for the renovation and we learned how long it would take, we realized we needed to do something with our staff," Guidara says. "The team that we work with right now, it's taken us 11 years to build, and we can't lose them."
The feeling is mutual when it comes to the staff. Speaking about the move and the high bar that Guidara and chef Daniel Humm set daily, dining room manager J.D. Nasaw says, "Even if it sounds monumental and nearly impossible, that's what keeps us all here. Right now, there's too many fun things happening for us to leave."
After considering international pop-ups for the summer hiatus, Guidara and Humm realized they wanted to stay closer to home, which would allow them not only to continue working with their team, but also stay true to their mission of being a true New York restaurant.
"So many of our regulars go to the Hamptons, so we said, 'Hey, let's go with them,'" Guidara explains. "It feels poetic that we'll have a summer home out there, too."
More than that, "it's also a really amazing way to give our team and ourselves a lovely team-building experience," the restaurateur adds. A smart business move for more reasons than one when you think about it. As Nasaw explains, the move is "forcing us to solidify our language and systems so that we can transport the culture of Make It Nice hospitality but adapt it to a very different setting."
And for Humm, setting up shop in the Hamptons is an opportunity to get to know many of the farms the kitchen works with throughout the year as well.
Hamptonites (and Amex holders) lucky enough to score reservations won't find the flagship's three-and-a-half-hour tasting menu or $295 price tag. "We originally planned to do [the pop-up] similarly to how we do it here, with more of a seafood focus," Guidara says, "but then we started spending a lot of time out there last summer to lay out a foundation, and we just realized we don't want a tasting menu after spending a day at the beach."
Instead, diners can expect three distinct areas where they can enjoy a different experience each night. Inside the house, Humm will serve an à la carte menu featuring local ingredients in dishes like fluke ceviche and prawn salad with sorrel. Outside under the tent, guests can feast on large-format plates of fried chicken or lobster rolls. Finally, there will be an area for games like ping-pong and pétanque, where guests can order burgers. They're also working on a takeaway option for picnics on the beach.
Just as they aim for their NYC restaurants to fit a specific environment and purpose, Guidara and Humm want the EMP Summer House to match the location. Eleven Madison Park is the restaurant you want for a special occasion, NoMad for a night on the town, Made Nice for lunch and the Summer House for a weekend at the beach.
Though Humm and Guidara are excited for a more casual, accessible menu, they aren't sparing any details. "A lot of our current kitchen we're putting on a truck." Guidara says. "We're bringing our plates and glasses . . . it works out perfectly," he says of the renovations timing and the proximity of the Summer House.
The most complicated, and essential, component to transport, of course, is the staff—but everyone seems on board. As Guidara puts it, "In our business, spending the summer in the Hamptons is just not how our lives work." This summer, the tables have turned.
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