Farm to Hell’s Kitchen
Foraging for the perfect heirloom melon when you’re sitting in New York City’s Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood may once have seemed farfetched. But then an idea emerged like a new leaf in springtime.
And that blossomed into a farm-to-table concept, located in an old book-printer space, and serving ingredients cultivated by New York, Vermont and Pennsylvania farmers so tightly knit to the restaurant it was like having a farm behind the kitchen.
“Because we have, and our forager has, a great relationship with farmers, we know where everything we serve is from,” says Print Restaurant Manager Billy talks
Hannon. “Our forager isn’t rummaging through the woods for flowers and mushrooms, but he’s deeply involved with farms and farmers to the point that if he learns of a special ingredient for our chef, he’ll speak with farmers, and they’ll grow it for us in the next season.”
Inspired by the concept made famous in California by chef Alice Waters of Chez Panisse, Print Restaurant has thrived in its location inside the Ink 48 Hotel.
In this week’s interview with Boxerbrand’s Recipe for Success, Manager Billy Hannon discusses the food, concept, and hard work that has kept Print Restaurant in fine fettle for 13 years.
Boxerbrand: How is Print Restaurant’s farm-to-table different than all the rest?
Billy: A lot of restaurants pay lip service to the farm-to-table concept, but at Print Restaurant, it’s a sincere mission. We have an in-house forager who meets with our team of farmers on their farms. We are so well sourced we can tell you where we grow our lettuce, and we churn our own butter in house. If we can’t find an ingredient our Michelin-award winning chef Aaron Tomczak needs, our forager will call a farmer and arrange for the ingredient to be planted and grown the next season.
Boxerbrand: What’s an example of a successful earth-to-plate menu item?
Billy: One of our most popular menu items this year was our heirloom melon. Our forager went to a farmer’s market and found these amazing melons, which look like cantaloupes but have more flavor. Our chef took the melons, made a brown-butter Fino Sherry Savignon. He puts this on the plate under the melon and tops it with toasted pine nuts, rosemary, and grated lime zest. Our customers have been raving about it!
Boxerbrand: How did local connections help Print Restaurant during the pandemic?
Billy: With Covid, there was a time that our regular spirits distributor couldn’t get vodka because of supply chain issues. This is where a local supplier, the Super Gay Vodka Company stepped in. When we put out a message on social media, they stepped up and brought in five cases. We also fostered relationships with an upstate bourbon company, and at various points during the pandemic, I drove upstate, and they drove toward us, and we met in the middle to get supplies.
Boxerbrand: What else did you do to survive the pandemic closures?
Billy: We were fortunate on a number of counts with the Covid shutdown. Once we were able to open back up, we got our team back together, and took an additional two weeks off to to strategize and plan. When we reopened our doors we reopened with a plan, and our loyal customer base came right back. One of our biggest advantages was our outdoor dining space. We have a rooftop lounge that opens up to a beautiful patio. So we were able to take full advantage of that space. We also sold specialty goods in a store in our downstairs space. So by the time we reopened, and our customers saw our lights were back on, they came back to us.
Boxerbrand: What is the look and vibe of Print Restaurant?
Billy: When you walk into our U-shaped space, we’re off a beautiful hotel lobby, where we have a beautiful lobby bar with craft spirits. This welcomes our guests into a den opposite the bar that seats 30 people in a cozy, intimate space warmed with hues of dark blues and maroons. Our dining room seating offers a range of richly appointed banquets, free-standing tables, and large-event tables, with a communal table in the middle that our guests love. And upstairs we have a rooftop lounge with 20-foot floor-to-ceiling glass that can open in good weather and be enclosed in the winter. This opens up to our rooftop patio, where we’ve replaced what used to be a swimming pool into a garden of wild herbs and flowers and seating.
Boxerbrand: How have your menu covers worked into your concept?
Billy: We purchased 8 x 14 folding books to highlight our beverage program and our wonderful organic dishes of local produce and farms. They help us to display and frame the work we’re most proud of. A goal of ours is to push our beverage menu to become 25 percent locally sourced, from bourbon, vodka and cider to other items. —Print Restaurant in Hell’s Kitchen NYC uses Boxerbrand’s Capri and iCandy line in its table presentation. Thank you!