— It's rare for a successful, top-rated restaurant like SideBern's to close for several months and relaunch with a new look and revamped menu.
With sister restaurants Elevage, Edge Social Drinkery and Chocolate Pi bakery at the newish Epicurean Hotel and flagship Bern's all in the same block, could SideBern's be suffering from sibling rivalry?
"Absolutely not," executive chef Chad Johnson said. "SideBern's has been around for a while and has had a great run. This is the next chapter."
Established in 1996, SideBern's will close June 24 and reopen in the middle of the fall. Johnson said SideBern's has a tradition of shuttering for a spell during the dog days each July to gussy up the space and focus on projects that are impossible during a regular business schedule. With the wine shop moving to the hotel across the street, a newly emptied room provided the management team with a major opportunity to contemplate.
"SideBern's is really three buildings piecemealed together. This was an opportunity to get the space to work better and to go back and look at the existing structure," Johnson said. "When this space became available, there wasn't a way to make a change in a short period of time. That was the catalyst for this closure."
The simplest thing, of course, would be to transform the vacated wine shop into private dining space, something SideBern's has not had. For Johnson, who is the chef overseeing both SideBern's and Elevage, this doesn't take into account one key thing.
"The reality is that the food at SideBern's isn't suited to serving 40 or 50 people. Dishes may have eight, 10 elements to them. It's not food that's suited to large volume."
Also, the Epicurean already has space devoted to private dining, as does Bern's.
While Johnson says this closure is "bittersweet," having spent much of the past decade between its walls, he's excited about "the opportunity to refresh the interior and move forward from the chef's perspective."
Bern's owner David Laxer and Mainsail Lodging & Development and Marriott were careful not to cannibalize themselves in the development of the Epicurean: Bern's would be the traditional upscale steak house, SideBern's would serve more contemporary New American cuisine and Elevage was a casual and affordable option focused on whimsical spins on American comfort foods. Taken together, hotel guests and locals could have three dramatically different dining experiences all on the same block and under the same umbrella.
Johnson is satisfied with that breakdown and intends for the re-envisioned SideBern's to maintain its identity as the gastronomically high-flying (and expensive) one of the brood. There will be no swapouts, moving the charcuterie, say, over to Elevage. Johnson likes the mix, even if he acknowledges of Elevage: "It took us a while to get our legs under us. But I'm happy with what the restaurant has become."
His usual process of menu development with SideBern's chef de cuisine Courtney Orwig involves putting their heads together and jotting down ingredients they are excited about. With four or five months during the renovation, Johnson says, "We'll have a large list of things we want to do and we'll have to dwindle that down. We'll want to reopen with a bang."
And what might that bang look like on the plate?
"Your idea is as good as mine. I'd be lying if I said anything about the menu. We have months to wrap our brains around what we want to do."
Laura Reiley can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 892-2293. Follow @lreiley on Twitter.