Pop-Up Thai in Pelham and Shake Shack Hits Westport!
Nisa Lee Café: Specializing in M.A.D. Thai
Nisa Lee of Nisa Lee’s Café in Pelham.
To the prudent eyes of bankers, accountants, and their ilk, first-time restaurant owners share a distinct form of insanity. Though not yet identified in the DSM, this illness compels its sufferers to sacrifice their life savings in high-overhead businesses that endeavor to sell perishable stock to often-absent customers (who are, themselves, struggling in an economic downturn). Surely, the condition is pitiable, but bankers aren’t enabling its poor sufferers with loans, either.
Yet when there is a will, there is a way, which is why new creative forms of restaurants are emerging, including food trucks, stands, and temporary restaurant pop-ups. Requiring smaller initial investments, these quasi-restaurants allow new restaurateurs to test the waters without risking bankruptcy. In Westchester’s latest pop-up, celebrity caterer Nisa Lee is taking over Pelham’s diurnal M.A.D. Café and transforming it by night into a serene Thai restaurant. According to Lee, the arrangement is mutually beneficial: she will learn valuable lessons from her low-risk restaurant trial, while M.A.D. Café earns rent during the hours its closed.
Transforming a deli with fabric and flowers.
Running a restaurant yields notoriously smaller profit margins than doing catering, which, as Nisa Lee did it (cooking from scratch in her clients homes), carries almost no overhead. Currently saddled with staff costs, overhead, and a fridge stocked with food that may or may not get sold, Lee is unfazed. “It’s still all about simplicity. How can you give a beautiful experience and still stay within a restaurant’s set margins?”
Massamun Curry Short Ribs with Crystal Noodles.
Of the menu? “It’s a combination of what I’ve been doing, and my clients’ favorites.” It’s short and laser-focused, and reflects the lessons that she learned catering events for glitterati like Paul McCartney, Halle Berry, and Jay-Z. Her takes on Thai standards like Massamun curry (in her version, short ribs) aren’t as oil-soaked as other versions, and Lee replaces sugar with agave syrup in many of her dishes. She also employs organic peanuts in her pad Thai and sate, and lightens hand-folded pork dumplings with tofu. And, whereas the brain-melting heat (and mouth puckering sours) of some of SriPraPhai’s food alienates more conservative diners, Lee’s gentler take on Thai standards is utterly democratic; Lee’s own children, as well as other junior Pelhamites, make frequent appearances in her pop-up.
Lee is looking for a permanent spot for Nisa Lee’s Thai café, after he six-month trial expires.
Shake Shack’s debut in Westport.
Shake Shack Hits Westport!
We braved the tanned, Nantucket Red-clad preppies to catch the debut of the first suburban Shake Shack in Westport, Connecticut. No longer will I need to loiter around Madison Square Park for my absolute favorite burger. The shakes. The wacky custards. And my most perverse pleasure of all: I like to stand by the kitchen exhaust fan to have finely atomized Pat LaFrieda beef fat sprayed all over my body. Don’t judge. When I do this, I emerge smelling like America.
Union Square Hospitality Group’s head, Danny Meyer, was there, as well as USHG CEO (and Rye resident) David Swinghamer and other company bigwigs. We ran into USHG alums, Stephen Paul Mancini and Eric Gabrynowicz of Armonk’s Restaurant North, who were excited and bubbly to meet all of their old USHG friends as they tucked into Brooklyn Brewery’s Shackmeister Ale.
Danny Meyer (left), Stephen Paul Mancini (center) and Eric Gabrynowicz (right) share a laugh.
Though we arrived freakishly five minutes early (we hit no anticipated traffic), we were ushered into the last parking space; others were swiftly conducted to a huge lot across the street. A bluegrass and country band played, and Shake Shack burgers were slung, as were as Chicago dogs, crinkle-cut fries, and loads of colorful concretes. For a general idea of the menu, click here—but Westport’s menu has a couple of innovations. According to Theresa Mullen, Shake Shack’s director of marketing and communications, “The Westport menu features all the Shake Shack classics, plus a selection of concretes inspired by its new neighborhood: Hopscotch [vanilla custard, E. Guittard milk-chocolate chunks, toffee, and caramel]; Banana Post Road [chocolate custard, caramelized cocoa nibs, bananas, and sea salt]; and Sasco ’Crete [vanilla custard, slice of seasonal, locally baked pie].” According to the release, a portion of the proceeds of the Sasco ’Crete concrete benefits Westport Arts Center’s Connections outreach program, which helps underprivileged students in urban communities neighboring Westport.
There are yet more ethical excuses to dig into a Shackburger, like the fact that “Shack’s new home was designed to minimize its environmental footprint. The new location is constructed from recycled and sustainable materials, including reclaimed antique barn wood siding, chairs and booths featuring lumber certified by the Forestry Stewardship Council, and tabletops sourced from heart pine beams salvaged from the Consolidated Cigar Co. in Glastonbury, CT just 65 miles away). The Shack and its signage beams are illuminated by LED light fixtures, with 100% of electric usage offset through Wind Farm credits.” For more pics of the Westport Shake Shack, see photo gallery below.