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Operators grapple with rising rents, staff shortages

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Here in New York City, skyrocketing rent is a perennial topic of conversation. For restaurateurs, it presents a major hurdle to leasing a space. There is a litany of stories of successful restaurants forced to close because their landlords won’t renew their leases without a staggering hike in rent.

The latest restaurant to face such a crisis is the venerable Four Seasons, which might get evicted from the Seagram Building, Gothamist reports. For the past 55 years, the restaurant has been entertaining captains of industry, celebrities, socialites, and anyone who wants to dress up and splurge on an elegant night on the town.

With the lease running out, landlord Aby Rosen apparently is required by a stipulation in the $783 million mortgage to raise The Four Seasons’ rent to $105 per square foot from its current rent of $20 per square foot.

Four Seasons co-owner Julian Niccolini expressed confidence that the conflict would be resolved, but lately restaurateurs have been increasingly complaining about another hurdle to doing business — finding competent kitchen staff.

A reason for that shortage? Line cooks in New York City only make an average of $23,000 per year, which, according to, is 29 percent higher than line cooks earn nationwide. But that’s not even enough to rent an average studio apartment in Manhattan, according to real estate brokerage firm MNS.

Rents are a bit lower in the city’s outer boroughs, such as Brooklyn and Queens, but are rising there, too. As a result, New York chefs are looking out of town to expand.

One city benefitting from that is Boston, where Daniel Boulud will take over management of Asana, the restaurant at The Mandarin Oriental, in December, according to Eater Boston. Boulud protégé Aaron Chambers is already installed at the restaurant.

Another New York-based celebrity chef, David Burke, also visited Boston recently and asked his Twitter followers what they thought of him opening a restaurant there.


Let’s just say they were enthusiastic, as they clamored to get Burke to open in Cambridge, Mass., and Boston’s Kenmore Square and South End neighborhoods.

Elsewhere in social media, Roy Choi, whose Kogi BBQ truck sparked the popularity of Korean food in America, tweeted a link about a speech he gave at the MAD food conference in Copenhagen discussing the importance of feeding and educating the poor, and how he helped democratize food with his truck.

Throughout the country, chefs continue to find creative ways to tell stories with their food. I particularly like what chef Thomas Lents is doing at Sixteen restaurant at Trump International Hotel & Tower Chicago. His winter menu is based on the city’s history, starting with appetizers inspired by the 1893 World’s Fair that are served on a Ferris wheel, followed by ash-roasted venison (the Great Chicago Fire of 1871), followed by a lake pike dish (the reversal of the Chicago River in 1900).

Contact Bret Thorn at [email protected].
Follow him on Twitter: @foodwriterdiary

TAGS: Workforce
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