There are few endeavors riskier than opening a restaurant in New York City, especially one with stratospheric prices. Which seems to suit Daniel Humm, chef and owner of Eleven Madison Park, just fine. Ever since he and his former business partner, Will Guidara, bought the restaurant from Danny Meyer in 2011, Humm has shown himself repeatedly to be a brinkman risk taker. In 2012 he decided that serving transporting food to an appreciative and bedazzled clientele wasn’t enough. And so he added card tricks and other touches of theater, including serving a cheese course in a picnic basket. As Guidara, who has since parted company with Humm, said at the time, “How many times in your life do you have an opportunity to leave your own legacy?”
The restaurant survived the gamble, but that wasn’t the end of the double dares for Daniel Humm. In 2021, he announced that the restaurant was going vegan. In an interview with the Wall Street Journal, he explained, “If Eleven Madison Park is truly at the forefront of dining and culinary innovation, to me it’s crystal clear that this is the only place to go next.”
The move struck me as an unforced error. Were New Yorkers willing to shell out $335 a head for the “vegetable plate”? Apparently, the answer is no. According to a report in the New York Post:
On a recent Tuesday night, the once impossible-to-book EMP was about 70% full. An email sent to potential customers March 31, announcing the reservation book’s openings for May, was filled with cutesy jokes and a hint of desperation.
Humm could always revert to an animal protein-based menu, but at this point it would look like a concession to popular tastes. That doesn’t sound like Humm’s style. Then again, despite all the high-blown rhetoric, Humm still serves meat. As a zero-star(!) New York Times review from last September notes:
[T]he menu offered to customers who book a private dining room includes an optional beef dish, roasted tenderloin with fermented peppers and black lime.
Could we be looking at the end of an era?