Tom Colicchio Changes Name of Latest Restaurant After Learning Racist Origins

Image: Temple Court

What’s in a name? Much if you’re New York restaurateur and celebrity chef Tom Colicchio, who was accused of playing the race card when he decided on a name for his glitzy year-old eatery in the Beekman Hotel.

The original name was Fowler & Wells. It was a nod to the publishing company and scientific institute that once held court on the same site in the financial district.

But therein lay the problem. As explained by The New York Times:

The men who started the company, Lorenzo and Orson Fowler and Samuel Wells, were proponents of phrenology, a popular 19th-century belief that the shape of one’s skull revealed characteristics like mental aptitude and personality.

Colicchio freely admits to have understood that that phrenology “was used for nefarious reasons.” But he had no idea how nefarious. Again, according to the Times:

The practice was frequently used to justify slavery and to advance a belief in African-American inferiority. Orson Fowler wrote that coarse hair correlated with coarse fibers in the brain, and indicated coarse feelings; that, he wrote, suggested that people of African descent had poor verbal skills and traits that were best suited for nursing children or waiting on tables.

Upon learning that sobering reality, Colicchio and company changed the name of the restaurant to Temple Court.

The restaurant is very up-front about this embarrassing chapter in its genesis, openly conceding on its web page that the original name was Fowler & Wells and linking to the Times article.

The website further notes, under “Our Story,” that “the dining room, set with rich, jewel-toned furnishings and antique accents, establishes Temple Court as a one-of-a-kind setting for dining in lower Manhattan.” Prices are what you would expect in such opulent surroundings, with first courses at dinner typically running from $24 to $29 (the menu changes regularly), main courses $36 to $73, desserts $11 to $18.

Temple Court, 5 Beekman Street, (212) 658-1848. Open daily for breakfast and dinner, weekdays for lunch, weekends for brunch. Major credit cards are accepted.