In the Shift to Fatty Lab, a New Way to Experiment With Pop-Ups
Chef Chaz Brown ran the first Fatty Lab Dinner: Crescent City Brooklyn
News broke a couple of months ago that Fatty 'Cue Brooklyn would abruptly shut its doors to become a new dining experience called Fatty Lab (91 South 6th Street, Brooklyn, 718-599-3090) (and this after the space had been closed for months of renovations, reopening in spring of last year).
The Fatty Crew's portfolio of concepts is one of the city's more successful home grown brands, and it recently expanded to Hong Kong with additional locations planned in London and throughout the United States thanks to a partnership with Stephen Starr. And that Brooklyn location didn't just undergo extensive renovations, it also got a dining experience overhaul: Phil Ward of Death and Co. fame made over the cocktail menu, and chef Anthony Masters' new offerings encompassed a mix of tradition and experimentation (long time customers could still order up nasi ulam and dragon toast, or they could venture into territory with the debut of items like lamb baos).
So why the change?
There is some precedent: The team ran a well received guest bartender pop-up, Fatty Johnson's, in between their Mexican joint Cabrito and the current West Village location of Fatty 'Cue. They felt the time was right to try again.
We spoke with Fatty Crew managing partner Rick Camac about the shift, and he talked to us about where Fatty Lab came from, what experiments are in store, and why he let a guy nicknamed "Chainsaw" into his recently renovated restaurant.
What factors played into the change from full service restaurant to weekend destination for the Brooklyn location?
All of the business was on the weekends. For us, it became opportunistic.
What's biggest challenge you face when running rotating pop-up dinners?
You're recreating a concept every weekend. There's a huge challenge to do them well. Since there is no history, it's very hard to judge.
Why do it when you're an established brand?
The decision to go down this path is actually twofold: It gives us an opportunity to collaborate with people and the chance to try different things. This Creole thing [Fatty Lab's first pop-up centered around Creole-style dishes], does it become Fatty Creole? Is this the next concept that makes sense?
How do you select what the concept will be for the weekend?
Reaching out to interesting people has not been the hard part. They're pretty easy to find. We're not necessarily looking for name people. John "Chainsaw" Taus, from Philly, worked under Stephen Starr. In essence, we are looking for people that have done interesting things elsewhere.
What were some of the things you've learned from your first Fatty Lab dinners?
One of the things we learned: The menu was a little too robust. You can't do that for a weekend. There's too much knowledge to impart upon servers. Drinks have to be learned.
What is the best part about taking this risk?
We like doing challenging things. This is surely that. It's interesting, it's fun, and it's exciting seeing a new place come to fruition. It's the most exciting thing in this business.
A full calendar of upcoming pop up dinners is expected to debut shortly, though those interested in heading out to South Williamsburg can receive updates on what's planned for 2014 through the restaurant's Facebook page.
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