About six months after announcing their business divorce, there’s movement in the Daniel Humm-Will Guidara empire, Make It Nice: Make It Nice is no longer in charge of the food and beverage programs for the NoMad hotel brand. The Sydell Group, which owns the NoMad and the Line hotels, will be in charge of the NoMad restaurants going forward, with several key, longtime NoMad staffers easing the transition. The NoMad currently has locations in New York, Los Angeles, and Las Vegas.
This leaves acclaimed chef Humm with ownership of Eleven Madison Park in New York, the newly opened Davies and Brook in the Claridge’s Hotel in London, the fast-casual restaurant Made Nice in New York, and a forthcoming restaurant at 425 Park Avenue in New York.
For Make It Nice, this shift represents a dramatically downsized portfolio. For the NoMad brand, iconic among travelers who prioritize food while touristing, it represents a potential chance to make a fresh case for itself at the beginning of a new decade — and in the midst of a changing hotel restaurant landscape.
The NoMad opened in New York in 2012 — one block south of the Ace Hotel and its lauded restaurant the Breslin — at the forefront of a new era of Good Hotel Restaurants. The interiors were over-the-top rich, with sumptuous fabrics and something to look at in every corner. The menu struck a balance between crowd-pleasing favorites and innovation, as with a decidedly modernist fruit de mer platter or the show-stopping foie-gras-stuffed roast chicken for two. The restaurant was one of the hottest dining destinations when it opened, and it remained busy for years — as did the NoMad Bar, serving complex cocktails from the mind of Leo Robitschek.
Today, there’s nothing particularly unusual about hearing a buzzy restaurant group or prominent chef is heading to a hotel for their next project. But in the early 20-teens, a strong restaurant brand choosing to take itself into the world of tourists and room service was still relatively new. But as with the Breslin (and Danny Meyer’s 2009 restaurant Maialino inside the Gramercy Park Hotel, perhaps the Patient X of the movement), New York City diners didn’t hold the hotel setting against Humm and Guidara, and hoteliers beyond the Ace and Sydell groups began to see the power of integrating destination-worthy restaurants and food service into their own brands. The model spread across the country at ever-faster speed. By 2017, the New York Times published a trend piece listing several prominent chefs who had set up shop in hotels, from Andrew Carmellini to Laurent Tourondel. Last year, two hotel restaurants made the Bon Appetit Hot 10 list, one in Austin and one in New Orleans. Earlier this month, Southern star Sean Brock announced he’d open a new hotel restaurant in Nashville.
The NoMad’s excursions into other cities happened well into this new paradigm of hotel restaurants simply being a part of any big dining city’s landscape. In January 2018, the NoMad landed in Los Angeles. The NoMad in Vegas — a collaboration between Make It Nice, Sydell, and MGM — opened that fall.
While the Vegas location was a natural fit for the showmanship and theatricality that came to define the brand’s aesthetic, the Los Angeles location has struggled to make a case for itself, which points to challenges ahead for the post-Guidara/Humm NoMad brand. Angelenos have proved casually disinterested in the admittedly breathtaking dining room, even when it had two of the biggest names in American hospitality attached to it.
In LA, it simply was not enough to offer a beautiful hotel lobby restaurant in a beautiful hotel. In New York, Vegas, and any other big city the new NoMad should choose to expand, the brand has to reckon with a similar lack of novelty. The NoMad helped usher in an age where serious diners aren’t ashamed to spend their nights in the hotel restaurants of their own cities. What will they do to stand out and compete in such a landscape?