Last summer chef Alon Shaya, who has helped bring national attention to Israeli cuisine at his eponymous restaurant in New Orleans, stopped in Denver to cook at Comal Heritage Food Incubator, where he made pita in Comal's outdoor oven and served a collaborative lunch with the women who learn and work at the non-profit kitchen. As it turns out, Shaya is quite a fan of Denver; he's now planning on opening a restaurant, Safta, in the Source Hotel that's slated to open later this spring at 3350 Brighton Boulevard.
Safta (Hebrew for grandmother) will offer modern interpretations of Israeli dishes, with a wood-burning oven producing Shaya's signature pita and other dishes both familiar and new to Denver diners (think lamb and hummus, for starters). As a melting-pot nation, Israel is home to food from that originated in many different regions, so Safta will offer tastes of Morocco, Lebanon, Syria, Bulgaria and Turkey. Shaya is bringing colleague Zach Engel, who won a James Beard Award in 2017 for Rising Star Chef of the Year, with him from New Orleans as culinary director.
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This will be the chef's first restaurant since he was dismissed from his role as executive chef at BRG Hospitality Group (formerly Besh Restaurant Group) restaurants Domenica, Pizza Domenica and Shaya after speaking to the Times-Picayune last fall about the lack of human resources at BRG. (Founding chef John Besh has been embroiled in sexual harassment allegations.)
After leaving BRG, Shaya founded his own group, Pomegranate Hospitality, that will also open another restaurant, Saba (Hebrew for grandfather), in New Orleans. The chef and BRG are in the midst of a court battle over the rights to the name Shaya for current and future restaurants; on February 7, a judge ruled that Besh could continue operating the New Orleans Shaya under that name...for now.
Israel cuisine has received lots of attention in recent years thanks to Shaya and Engel, as well as restaurants such as Zahav in Philadelphia. If you want a taste of the country's food here in Denver before Safta opens, try Tel Aviv Street Food inside Whole Foods Union Station.
The Source Hotel will also be home to Smok BBQ from former Acorn chef Bill Espiricueta, as well as other artisan shops, as an extension of the Source next door, also a project of Zeppelin Development.