Space-sharing chefs say there’s no such thing as too many cooks in the kitchen.
In January, Phoenix chef David Duarte was days away from signing a lease for a new fine dining restaurant when he stopped at The Market Restaurant + Bar, owned by longtime friend Jennifer Russo. While they were chatting, Russo thought about how owning a restaurant would cramp Duarte’s lifestyle of traveling, doing charity work and holding pop-up dinners.
Then it hit her. “Why doesn’t David use the Market and do his own concept when I’m closed Sunday night, Monday and Tuesday?” she says. “I’ll give him every other Saturday.”
Duarte, a fireman turned chef (previously executive chef at Scottsdale’s Pane e Vino), embraced the idea, and a partnership was born. In February, he started sharing Russo’s kitchen in Arcadia’s Gaslight Square, but they have separate menus and restaurants: Russo’s casual but elegant The Market Restaurant + Bar; and Finestre Modern Gastronomy, where Duarte offers ambitious, multicourse, “farm-to-fork” dinners with wine pairings.
The chefs are part of a growing trend of culinarians who share spaces to save money and time on running their own restaurants and facilities. Sharing space gives Duarte and Russo the ability to collaborate and help each other. Duarte can step in for Russo so she can take a day off, or help her team if she has an emergency.
“This is an opportunity to work together instead of competing, and take a little bit of that stress off financially,” she says.
Duarte says the partnership is “literally a dream come true” for restaurant upstarts like his. “It’s still stressful, but it’s not the stress of opening a restaurant and having to make money right away.” For Russo, the rent/share arrangement is a great way to utilize the space she’s paying for even on days her restaurant is closed.
In a different kind of sharing arrangement, two powerhouse chefs are teaming up to open a pair of restaurants under one roof in Old Town Scottsdale. Chef Hyunwook Lee, owner of Sizzle Korean Barbecue and Nori Sushi, will open a second Sizzle location, splitting space with chef Shinji Kurita, who’ll reopen ShinBay, the contemporary Japanese fine dining restaurant he shuttered in 2016. The chefs will share the building, but the restaurants will be separate and have their own entrances and kitchens. Lee hopes the novelty will be a draw.
Sizzle will have 27 cooking tables and Kurita will offer omakase (chef’s choice, starting at $150 per person) at his 15-seat restaurant.
In Scottsdale, chef Josh Hebert recently opened Chef Lounge, a coworking space and incubator of sorts that helps chefs without restaurants organize pop-up dinners, work on business plans and take food and wine classes.
To some extent, the kitchen co-working arrangement that Russo and Duarte have adopted mimics the commercial kitchen model that many caterers use.
Giovanni Pace, owner of Scratch Catering, also manages United Kitchen, an 8,600-square-foot commercial kitchen in Central Phoenix that has hot and cold cooking areas and dry and cold storage capacity. He has about 35 clients – from food truck owners to small food businesses – that pay an average of $500-$600 a month to rent space and use kitchen equipment. The cost varies depending on production, Pace says. “We provide an environment that’s safe, clean and has functioning equipment.”
Kitchen and restaurant sharing may be the wave of the future, according to Russo and Duarte. They hope their unique model will catch on with other Valley chefs. “It’s such a hard, hard business, so if you have someone on your side instead of against you, it makes a huge difference,” Russo says. “You start to sleep at night again.”