When stepping into the bustling City Kitchen, a food market serving up fresh food from eight different New York vendors, casual visitors would never know that the space opened less than one year ago. Since its March 5 opening, the dining area—which is part of the Row NYC hotel—has already garnered the title of “New York City’s Best Food Hall” from Zagat. Heidi Avedisian, market curator and interior designer, discusses what has made the new establishment a hit in Times Square.
How did you design a market that would match the style of the Row NYC hotel? I had the privilege of developing the Row NYC brand, where we took the unique approach of inviting the city into the property and giving our guests exactly what they want—the ultimate New York City experience. We took this tack verses creating a sanctuary or retreat in the midst of Times Square. Reflecting this approach is our tagline: “More New York Than New York.” When I was tasked with developing the market, it was a logical extension of that brand. When it comes to food, City Kitchen’s culinary lineup of vendors hits that mark perfectly with vendors coming from all over the city.
In terms of design, I always knew I wanted City Kitchen to embody not only the look and feel, but also all of the warmth and energy of an urban working kitchen. In this way, it is both a contrast and a complement to the sleek, modern décor of the hotel. My client fully supported the desire to make City Kitchen its own thing, with its own unique look and attitude.
As market curator, how did you ensure all of New York City’s boroughs were represented in City Kitchen? At first it was really about defining categories. Mediterranean, sushi, pastry, burgers…once the broad categories were defined, we set out to unearth the best of the best within those categories. Some were obvious choices and vendors that we already knew and loved…others were more of a mission. I think I ate at every taco truck in the city of New York in an attempt to find “the one.” Ironically, it wasn’t a truck at all that ultimately fit the bill, but a midsized restaurant on the Upper West Side where they make tortillas right in front of you all day long and serve a perfect ceviche.
How did you decide which vendors to feature in the space? One word: “cravable.” There is a lot of beautiful food out there, but our vendors had to pass the test of, “Is this something we want over and over again?” It was essential because of our size. All of our menus needed to be small so that we could provide excellent service delivery—and so what these vendors are doing, they need to be doing exceptionally well. I firmly believe in that concept when it comes to food in general: You don’t need to do everything; you just need to do one or two things really well. That was the test.
How did you choose the materials for the interior design? I loved the design challenge of turning a second story, somewhat corporate, glass box into a bustling, authentic-feeling working kitchen. There were so many directions that could have worked, but in the end, I just designed the kind of place I want to go to…and all the people I know want to go to. No matter where people start out at a party, everyone always ends up in the kitchen, right? I wanted to capture some of that—thus the name and the atmosphere. It’s a warm, lively, beautifully lit space that feels authentic. The materials are modern and mixed with just the right amount of nostalgia…thick marble slab, slate, and glass combine with classic white subway tile, reclaimed scaffolding, neon and leather counter stools. I kept the background fairly calm, because it’s a pretty tight space for the variety of programming we have, but I took a lot of creative license when it came to expressing each vendor’s individual brand through their signage and menu boards. I used a range of materials including Plexiglas, string art, leather, neon, and antique mirror to make the space feel a bit more DIY, real and true to the concept.
How did you make the space comfortable for chefs to work side-by-side? We like to think that picking the right chefs has a lot to do with that. At first, there is a great deal of anxiety wondering if the kids are going to play nicely together in the sandbox—it’s only a 3,800-square-foot sandbox hosting eight vendors. But by the time we opened City Kitchen, our vendors had already formed what feels like their own family and unique culture that is City Kitchen. I think because we held the bar so high for food quality, our chefs really respect one another and the food they are all creating.
Being in an area brimming with restaurants, how does City Kitchen stand out and entice guests? The area has one of the highest densities in the world, but surprisingly very little to offer in terms of authentic food. It’s been long known for fast food, chain concepts with the occasional traditional fine dining establishment. We knew we had a great location and set out to change both the notion of a typical hotel dining experience as well as the area’s banal food options. The trick was making our food offerings compelling enough to get people to come up off the street to a second floor location. Once people, particularly the locals, realized that some of their favorite haunts were actually now right in Times Square, they came and haven’t stopped coming. We are seeing a really great repeat clientele. To reach all of those tourists, we took advantage of our great corner visibility on 8th Avenue and 44th Street to create really big and bold signage, using a variety of materials and showcasing exactly what’s in City Kitchen.