In the fiercely competitive world of New York dining, restaurants are always trotting out a new shtick to separate themselves from the pack. What Happens When is trotting out nine shticks.
Each month for the next nine months, the new restaurant from vaunted NYC chef John Fraser (of Dovetail and Snack Taverna, by way of French Laundry) will change just about everything about itself, from the menu and the soundtrack down to the look of the place, according to a loose theme. One month it might serve potato skins with wheat beer fondue in an icy Nordic environment; the next red velvet cake in a Gatsby-esque setting of lush fabrics and sultry lighting. What’s more, the old designs will be commemorated as life-sized blueprints mapped on the floor and walls. (No word on how they’ll commemorate the food.)
Is this the resto equivalent of speed-dating? Pretty much, yeah. “John felt locked in by his success at Dovetail,” says Elle Kunnos de Voss of The Metrics, the firm charged with redesigning the restaurant. “He wanted to experiment. It was really about being a playground for him and for us.”
Albeit a playground with a budget of zero. So What Happens When turned to Kickstarter to raise money. Pledge $5, and they’ll put your name on the wall of the restaurant. Pledge $100, and you a package of three flavored salts handmade by Fraser. (Go here to see all the donor levels.) The restaurant’s collaborators will even select monthly themes based on donors’ suggestions. Some past — and particularly creative — suggestions, per Kunnos de Voss: a “hell/ igloo” theme (?) and headlights in a cornfield (???).
Thus far, What Happens When has raised $21,000 — an impressive sum by Kickstarter standards, but pennies in the restaurant biz. So The Metrics have learned to work a little magic. For the debut theme — a stark Nordic winter — they bought chairs on eBay from a real estate agent in Texas for $10 a pop, then upholstered them on their own. Many of the tables came from the restaurant that had occupied the space before. As for the lighting, they handcrafted chandeliers out of cardboard and minimalist lamp shades out of the pages of a $1 book they found at Housing Works.
We can’t wait to see how they finagle “headlights in a cornfield.”
[Images by Felix de Voss]