Cafe Society

The Duo crew plans to take over Aix

Yesterday, I noted that Aix's website had gone dark -- as its dining room was last Saturday night. But because 17th Avenue is such a solid restaurant neighborhood, I don't think anyone out there thought the space would stay empty for long.

I just got off the phone with Keith Arnold, owner (along with Stephanie Bonin) of Duo, and he confirmed the rumor that's been flying around the industry for the last 24 hours: They're planning to buy Aix and installing a new restaurant of their own in the space.

"What I can say right now, because it's not yet a done deal, is that we have every intention in place,"  Arnold said, adding that he and Bonin have met with the landlord, they've met with Aix owner Rachel Wolcott and her partner, and everyone shook hands.

But Arnold, being the careful operator that he is, insists that nothing is really real "until the ink is dry on the paper"--something that should happen by the end of next week.

When I asked how the deal had come together, Arnold told me that he and Bonin had started  talking about it last summer. "But then the economy blah blah blah, doom and gloom,"  he explained. So they decided to put it off, then put it off again.

What really got things moving was a speech by the new president.  "You know, when he said to stand up, dust yourself off and get back to work?  That was it,"  Arnold said of Barack Obama's inspiration. While I don't know if Arnold was kidding around about that, the deal came down seriously fast, quietly and largely out of public view, with the crew at Aix "full-steam right up until the end."

Arnold also told me that his chef at Duo, John Broening, and Broening's girlfriend and long-time pastry chef Yasmin Lozada-Hissom (neither of whom have any partnership deal at Duo) will be brought in as partners at the new joint, making for a four-way arrangement that Arnold thinks will work out quite nicely, since they've all been working so closely together for better than four years.

I asked if they'd chosen a name yet, and Arnold told me no. I asked if there was some idea of a concept, and he said, no, not really -- nothing beyond the notion that it was going to "Mediterranean influence, Italy, France, that kind of thing."  As for an opening date, nothing is set in stone, but they're looking at a fast turn-around, hoping to have something up and running by the beginning of April.

When they do get the new operation off the ground, Broening will be on the books as exec at both addresses, with his two dedicated sous chefs--Tyler Skrivanek (a three-year Duo veteran) and Kate Horton (who's been on the line for two)--watching the shop when he's not around. 

Broening will be doing menu development and testing recipes over the next few weeks. And though Arnold told me that the Aix space (which is s-m-a-l-l, small) won't need a lot of work, they're still planning on making it their own -- maybe building a new walk-in cooler off the back door, getting some new kitchen gadgets for Broening to play with, and (believe it or not) perhaps even jamming in a few more seats. "We're not afraid of rubbing elbows a little," Arnold told me.

I just wonder if I'm going to have to sit on someone's lap in order to get a meal at Aix's replacement.

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Jason Sheehan
Contact: Jason Sheehan