The James Beard Award-winning chef plans to do things differently.
Saba, the debut restaurant from his new organization, Pomegranate Hospitality, will open in New Orleans this spring. Chef de Cuisine Cara Peterson will source local seafood, meats and produce from the New Orleans area to serve food that reflects Shaya's culinary heritage, "paying homage to the culinary landscape of Israel." With a strong focus on family-style dining, the modernized dishes at Saba (which means "grandfather" in Hebrew) will draw influences from the flavors and traditions of Bulgaria, Yemen, Syria, Morocco, Turkey, Palestine and Greece.
"We’re going to have a wood-burning oven to make beautiful pita bread that’s going to come out hot and steamy," Shaya tells Food & Wine. "Bellgarde Bakery, which finds amazing wheat from all over the country, mills it fresh and will supply us the wheat for our pita."
In addition to Saba, Pomegranate Hospitality will open Safta late this spring in Denver, Colorado, inside the forthcoming Source Hotel in the city's RiNo (River North) Arts District.
Shaya's new openings have been highly anticipated, in part, due to months of legal troubles with former partner John Besh towards the end of last year. In September 2017, Shaya was fired from the Besh Restaurant Group, where he helmed the critically acclaimed restaurants Domenica, Pizza Domenica and Shaya. (In a long Facebook post, Shaya claimed he was pushed out of the restaurant group for speaking out about John Besh's alleged sexual harrassment, as well as the toxic workplace culture fostered by the restaurant group.) After a legal battle with his former partners in which Shaya attempted to retain the rights to use his name in future projects, the chef ultimately switched his energies towards launching Pomegranate Hospitality.
So what excites Shaya most about his forthcoming projects isn't necessarily the food (though he's geeked about that, too), but the new kind of kitchen culture and community he is working to foster. With the help of Suzi Darre, named Director of People & Culture, Shaya is committed to making his restaurants safe, transparent and organized. For example, they plan to conduct quarterly cultural training for everyone on the team, as well as offer online continuing education programs for all employees.
"[Darre] has really helped us with putting together a plan on how to create a really comfortable and safe workplace for everyone who joins our team," says the chef. "It’s been a roller coaster of emotions over the last five months for all of us. It’s been a blessing. It’s given us all time to reflect and articulate what we want to do."
Part of this work has involved reaching out to restaurants that are "doing things right," and Shaya cites Ashley Christensen and Kaitlyn Goalen of Raleigh, North Carolina as his inspiration.
"I’ve spent some time with them over the last few weeks," he says. "They have so much great insight, and they really stand behind their promises to their team through their actions. They’ve been so generous with information. It’s been great because it really feels like we’re all in this together to do things better all around and not make the same mistakes we’ve made in the past."
Shaya's forthcoming cookbook, Shaya: An Odyssey of Food, My Journey Back to Israel, comes out March 13.