Maine man: Joe Ghazal on his upcoming American brasserie

By Joe Lutrario contact

- Last updated on GMT

Joe Ghazal on his Maine restaurant in Mayfair

Related tags: Joe Ghazal, Maine, American cuisine, London

The Canadian-born restaurateur will launch a huge New England-inspired restaurant in a Grade II-listed Georgian townhouse on Mayfair's Hanover Square later this year.

What exactly is an American brasserie?  

They’re inspired by the great tradition of the European brasserie and also the American-English gastropub. They’re familiar, accessible places where you know what you’re going to get. What makes it American is that we do it with a bit more attitude; it’s more fun and the portions are more generous. We already have three Maine restaurants in Dubai and they're doing very well. 

You’re from Canada. Why the focus on New England? 

Montreal is fairly close to New England and I spent a lot of time in places such as Maine and Vermont growing up. But being a Canadian I could not get away with opening a restaurant that did not do a great Bloody Caesar (a Bloody Mary made with clamato juice) and poutine. We’re importing the cheese curds for the latter from Quebec. 

What else will be on the menu? 

They’ll be a  focus on seafood including various chowders, which are a big deal in New England, and our famous crispy fish tacos. They’ll also be a lot of raw seafood on offer including a big range of oysters. The grill will be important too; we’ll do a great burger and offer a range of US-style steaks. Some dishes will be more surprising and contemporary, for example our fried chicken will be served with caviar. The whole venue will have a single base menu but it will change slightly depending on which room you’re in. For example the brasserie will be focused on grilled dishes. 

Will the wine list be big on wine from New England and Canada?

Absolutely. We’re going to list a lot of the big names in American wine. But it’s important to me that nobody feels any aspect of the experience alienating so we’ll offer a range of price points. The list will be manageable, we’re looking at 50 whites and 100 reds. 

Tell us about the site itself 

We’ve taken over a gorgeous Georgian townhouse on Hanover Square. The project is part of the Great Portland Estate’s redevelopment of the square. It’s been quite complicated to convert the building to commercial use because it’s Grade II-listed. Each room will have its own vibe. I want people to move freely around the space, which will have just under 400 covers in total, and have different experiences. We also have one of the largest terraces in Mayfair in Great Portland Estate’s newly created Medici Courtyard. We worked with Brady Williams on the design, which is quite theatrical. We've worked of the natural beauty of the building, for example we have amazing vaulted brick ceilings. Each room has its own style but we have not lent too heavily in on direction, it doesn't feel themed.  

What appealed to you about the location? 

Being on the edge of Mayfair makes a lot of sense because we’re close to Selfridges and Soho. We’re also moments from Condé Nast’s new head office. Overall it’s a great catchment for us as a brand, the area is a hub for hedge funds and art galleries. There’s no paid membership. It’s inclusive and non-pretentious but it will have everything one would expect to find at a private members club including places to work during the day.

Do you have your key staff in place?

We have about 25 people in place including all the key senior roles. We will need 150 staff in total. People are complaining about staff at the moment but we have not found it that difficult. We have people that have worked in similar venues including Coya, Annabel’s, Roka and Chiltern Firehouse. It’s an Avengers of management, really. Our head chef is Stuart Caldwell (Roast, The Wolseley). He understands how to run a big operation without losing focus on where the food comes from and supporting smaller suppliers.

Tell us about your background 

My first waiting job was actually in London. I turned 43 yesterday so it’s funny to think I was working here when I was 19. My first job was working at the original Soho House. It’s crazy how far they have taken Soho House, back then they just had the Greek Street site and Babington House. 

What happened after London?​  

I worked for some restaurants in Montreal and worked my way up from a waiter to a manager. In 2005 I worked for a group that had a lot of restaurants in Canada and was charged with designing and developing their brands. I broke out on my own in 2009 and have now launched 10 or so restaurants across the Middle East. I currently operate three restaurants in Dubai but a fourth will open soon and I have a few more in the pipeline. 

What’s the market like in Dubai post-pandemic?

They handled it well. They were very quick, we had a two month lockdown but that was it. This was followed by a successful vaccination programme. There have been restrictions on capacity and there was no help from the Government, but it was all over quite quickly.

Related topics: Business Profile, People, Restaurant

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