Smith & Wollensky Restaurant Group is closing the lower level of its Chicago restaurant this week and, after renovations, plans to reopen it as Wollensky’s Grill in the fall.
In addition, the nine-unit Boston-based fine-dining steakhouse operator is set to open its first restaurant abroad, a 15,000-square-foot unit to debut in London in March.
Michael Feighery, president and chief executive of Smith & Wollensky, said in an interview this week that the company intends to capitalize on the steakhouse’s brand and push it into new areas with both of these moves. The Chicago grill is an effort to broaden the steakhouse concept’s audience, he noted.
“We’re trying to make it more approachable for the guests,” Feighery said. “We know the steakhouse segment is quite a commitment when it comes to cost and dining out. We want to make the grill a lighter, more casual version of the main dining room. It will be more accessible but still have a lot of the elements you would expect from the Smith & Wollensky dining experience.”
Feighery said portions and plate sizes will be smaller, but the grill will still emphasize steak.
“Sliced steaks will represent the classics we serve in the main dining room, and there will be more shareable plates for more interaction,” he said, acknowledging changing consumer preferences. “It’s a big commitment in sitting down and eating a 28-ounce porterhouse. With our new menu options, you can sample very many items.”
The offerings will include sharable plates of steaks, beef bacon, barbecued beef spring rolls and foie gras, as well as charcuterie plates and a burrata bar section.
In addition, the service will be more interactive. “A steakhouse can sometimes be a bit brusque and standoffish,” Feighery said. “We just want to make the personality of restaurant represent what we want to do. There will be a little speedier service. It will be a little more lively and social.”
Wollensky’s Grill will incorporate Smith & Wollensky’s classic green and white accents as well.
While the steakhouse segment depends heavily on business entertainment and travel, Feighery said the Chicago Smith & Wollensky unit has always drawn a significant amount of pleasure-travel business. He said that makes the Chicago restaurant a favorable location to test the grill renovations.
“People come to Chicago in the summertime as tourists,” he said. “There’s a huge influx of tourists in what is usually considered the off-season for business travel.”
As for the brand’s first expansion abroad, Feighery said he considered it a “little bit overdue.” However, he said Smith & Wollensky wanted to be sure it could manage the operation well.
The London restaurant, just off The Strand on the ground floor of the Adelphi building on John Adams Street, will cover 15,000 square feet.
“It’s a big store for a U.K. restaurant,” Feighery added.
U.S. Smith & Wollensky restaurants vary in size from 30,000 square feet and 700 seats in Las Vegas to about 17,000 square feet and 280 seats in Philadelphia. Some have patios in the summer season.
He said the two-level London restaurant will have 300 seats with private-event rooms and two full-service bars. Licensing in London is a bit different, he said, so both bars will be full-service dining as well. It will also feature the brand’s full butcher shop and on-site dry-aging room.
Smith & Wollensky currently owns and operates two restaurants in its headquarters city of Boston as well as units in Chicago; Columbus, Ohio; Houston; Las Vegas; Miami Beach, Fla.; Philadelphia; and Washington, D.C.
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