Alon Shaya has officially moved on. Saba, Shaya’s first restaurant since his contentious split with chef John Besh’s restaurant group, opens in New Orleans today. Like his namesake restaurant, Shaya, Saba will serve Israeli food. But here, the chef says, everything — from the pita to the employee culture — will be better than before. “Our goal is not to differentiate so much as it is to just do what we love to do and keep working on improving constantly,” he tells Eater NOLA.
Saba is Shaya’s first restaurant with his newly formed Pomegranate Hospitality restaurant group. In September, the chef was fired from BRG Hospitality (formerly Besh Restaurant Group), where he was a chef-partner at Shaya, Domenica, and Pizza Domenica. Shortly after Shaya’s departure, the Times-Picayune broke the news that Besh’s restaurant group fostered a culture that encouraged sexual harassment and assault. (The two restaurants Shaya ran were not, according to the reports, “safe havens from sexual harassment.”)
At Saba, Shaya says he’s making a concerted effort to combat the kind of restaurant culture that breeds harassment. He’s hired a “director of culture and people” and employees will have benefits and access to a health and wellness program. Employee training includes lessons on discrimination and harassment. Shaya says the Saba team, led by chef de cuisine Cara Peterson and general manager Jessica Retif, wants “to create a really safe and comfortable work environment for everyone on board.”
At Shaya, the chef was known for hummus topped with meat and vegetables and “steamy and plush” pita that “redefines pita,” as Eater critic Bill Addison put it. Now, just over a mile away from Shaya on the same street, Saba will serve “new and improved pita” from a wood-burning oven at the center of the dining room, skewers cooked over a charcoal grill, and a host of Israeli dishes with Louisiana influences. Saba’s menu will take particular advantage of local seafood in options like hummus topped with crab meat and a fried oyster po’ boy served in a pita.
Saba will also have a caviar menu, making Champagne an important part of the drinks lineup, which also includes cocktails and wines from the Europe and the Middle East. That said, Shaya envisions Saba as a casual restaurant. “This is a place you’ll be able to bring your kids to that you can come a few times a week if you wanted to and never feel like you’re overindulging,” he explains to Eater NOLA. “Really we just want this to be a great neighborhood hangout spot.”
Saba will serve dinner and lunch to start, but a few weeks after opening, the restaurant will launch Saturday and Sunday brunch with “smoked fish and bagels, chopped liver and potato salad, and all of the things that your grandfather would love to eat at a New York deli,” Shaya says.
Saba actually means “grandfather” in Hebrew. Shaya lost the right to use his own name for his restaurant ventures in a recently settled legal battle with Besh’s BRG Hospitality. But it appears he’s hit on new inspiration for his restaurants’ names — Shaya will open Safta, Hebrew for “grandmother,” in Denver, Colorado, later this summer. At its core, though, the food isn’t that different. “It’s important that we stay true to who we are and our style of cooking,” the chef says.
• Alon Shaya’s Saba Restaurant Opens This Week [ENOLA]
• Look Inside Alon Shaya’s Saba Restaurant, Opening Tomorrow [ENOLA]
• Will Alon Shaya Leave the NOLA Restaurants That Made Him Famous? [E]
• Alon Shaya and John Besh End Legal Fight Over the Shaya Name [E]