Four restaurant operations and investment veterans have formed a holding company to buy into and expand existing concepts, starting with three well-known brands in New York City.
The new company, Apres Cru, has invested in the businesses of restaurateur Marc Forgione of Peasant and his namesake restaurant Marc Forgione, Leah Cohen and Ben Byruch of Pig & Khao and Piggyback, and Jeff Bell of PDT and Crif Dogs.
“We offer both financial and strategic support,” said Sabato Sagaria, former president of Bartaco and before that chief restaurant officer of Danny Meyer’s Union Square Hospitality Group, who is one of the four business partners in Apres Cru.
The other three are Dustin Wilson, co-founder of retailer Verve Wine and, like Sagaria, a master sommelier; Eric Engler, senior managing partner of investment firm Reservoir Capital Group; and Gary Obligacion, director of restaurant development for the Alinea Group in Chicago.
Sagaria said the exact structures of the new partnerships varies and that, apart from funding, Apres Cru is lending its administrative expertise to expand not just to new locations, but to new businesses such as consulting, licensing and retail.
“Something that we see as an opportunity coming out of this [pandemic] is how to use the great talent that these folks have, and their great brands” he said. “As the world starts to recover there are going to be opportunities for new brands to grow and emerge, and people that are going to be looking for partnerships, or new restaurants.”
PDT, which helped kick off the early 2000s speakeasy trend by opening behind a hidden door at the unassuming hot dog spot Crif Dogs in New York City’s East Village (the name is an acronym for “please don’t tell”), already has a second location, via a licensing agreement, at the Mandarin Oriental hotel in Hong Kong, which opened in 2017.
Jeff Bell also opened a new Crif Dogs at Jacx & Co., a food hall in the Queens neighborhood of Long Island City, N.Y.
Sagaria said several additional Crif Dogs locations could open in New York City, adding that the concept “would be great on college campuses.”
As for PDT, Bell already developed four mixers for JetBlue airlines and Sagaria said there’s the potential to expand those into consumer packaged goods.
Additional PDT units would likely be in discreet corners of iconic locations, possibly in collaboration with a hotel company.
“We’d be selective about where we do another PDT because it is something that is very unique and special,” Sagaria said.
Pig & Khao is a popular Manhattan restaurant speciallizing in the cuisines of Thailand and the Philippines. Sister restaurant Piggyback is more pan-Asian and bar focussed and opened shortly before the pandemic started.
“I think there's a great opportunity there,” Sagaria said of Piggyback. “We've been working with [Cohen and Byruch] on a more casual concept that is a little bit like a night market or a street market with a bar concept as well.”
He said Apres Cru was exploring opportunities in New York and other Northeastern cities to open the new concept and also were in discussions with developers in Mexico.
“There's a lot of overlap and similarities when you look at the Southeast Asian beach culture and Mexican beach culture,” Sagaria said. “That's some of the exciting opportunities that we have.”
Forgione took over Peasant restaurant — a beloved restaurant with a focus on wood-fire cooking in New York City’s West Village — two months before the pandemic, and he and Apres Cru experimented with a Peasant Pizza popup during the pandemic that Sagaria said was very successful.
“We could do Peasant Pizza & Wine, or maybe Peasant Steak in venues with wood-fire capability,” Sagaria said.
Sagaria said Apres Cru is looking for other companies, probably in the 3-5 unit or 10-13 unit range, to partner with and help expand, possibly with an eye toward getting private-equity investment in the future, or just to get the logistical expertise necessary to reach their next stage of growth.
Contact Bret Thorn at [email protected]
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