Photo: Evan Sung
To the owners of the Plaza hotel, Todd English is worth more than a washing machine.
Miki Naftali, the chief executive of the Elad Group (the owners of the Plaza Hotel on the corner of 5th Avenue and 59th Street in Manhattan), admitted as much during a preview opening of English's new Food Hall in an underground space at the hotel.
As guests tucked into prime-rib sliders, cumin-seared prawns and English's haute version of the Ring Ding in the warmly-lit and high-ceilinged space, Naftali said that when his group took over the hotel in 2004, the space was a dank and decrepit laundry room.
Now, about $4 million later and with the help of architectural designer Jeffrey Beers, it boasts stations doling out dumplings, oysters, sushi, salads, steaks and desserts. The former laundry room now dubbed "The Plaza Food Hall by Todd English" has 80 seats total, but no tables, just bar seats where diners can interact with cooks.
And the hotel has outsourced almost all of its dirty laundry. "There is no reason to do laundry in one of the most expensive pieces of real estate in New York," Naftali said.
Everyone from English to the event's publicists took pains to correct anyone who referred to the Food Hall as a "food court." It is, Naftali said, a space along the lines of the food hall at Harrods in London, not at all like the lowbrow assemblage of Panda Buffets, fast food dealers and Cinnabons crushed into upstairs corners of suburban shopping malls.
"A food court you take from McDonalds and on a tray and you sit down," Naftali said. "The quality of food here is restaurant quality."
English agreed, saying, "You either eat at the bar or you don't eat at all,"
It is nice having serious money behind a project, English said. "There's enough money behind it that we had time to train the staff, which is unusual in this day and age," he said, standing in his chef's jacket, which is black not white. "Usually it's 'now, now, now, open it up, open, open.'"
The official opening day of the Plaza Food Co..., er, Food Plaza is June 4.