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Las Vegas, San Francisco … Newark? The New Jersey city is not the first place you’d expect one of New York’s most recognized chefs to eye for expansion. But it’s exactly where chef and perpetual Harlem booster Marcus Samuelsson will open his next restaurant, Marcus B&P.
At his Manhattan restaurants, Red Rooster and Streetbird, Samuelsson has focused on infusing African-American comfort food with a patina of influences (his Ethiopian background, the barrio’s Mexican community). The 2,250-square-foot Marcus B+P, which opens tomorrow in Newark’s Central Business District, is something of a departure for the chef. The name is a reference to the Swedish concept of “back pocket,” an accessible and casual place. There are some familiar dishes (menu here) like fried chicken (served with “super ripe” plantain waffles, Escovitch vegetable, and hot honey) and Marcus’s cornbread, but it’s also the first restaurant where Samuelson will make pastas in-house, for dishes like cannelloni stuffed with the Ethiopian chicken dish dorowat. His kitchen will also serve pizzas, including a white clam pie made with ricotta and Calabrian chili, as well as a very Jersey combination of Taylor ham (a.k.a pork roll) with egg and provolone. (Other Jersey influences include the Ironbound Ocean Temporo with piri-piri aioli, named for the city’s famous Portuguese neighborhood.)
So, the big question remains: Why New Jersey? The restaurant is actually a partnership between Samuelsson and developer Ron Moelis, a co-owner of Red Rooster whose company L+M Development Partners renovated the Hahne & Co. building that the restaurant calls home. Business considerations aside, Samuelsson also talks about the restaurant in loftier terms. He admits to being drawn to centers of African-American culture, and points to the many great musicians who are from Newark or nearby (Whitney Houston, Lauryn Hill, and Naughty by Nature, among others).
Restaurants (including Red Rooster) necessarily get brought up in conversations about gentrification, and Moelis has been criticized for exploiting the concept of “affordable housing” and has been called “the Gentrification King.” The Hahne & Co. building offers luxury rentals, with a 855-square-foot one-bedroom listed for $2,235 a month. It’s also located near near the offices of companies like Credential, as well as Rutgers and Seton Hall law school campuses, all places Samuelson hopes to draw in.
“We don’t start maybe how a normal restaurant starts. I’m, like, starting a church. I’m, like, starting a community organization,” the chef explains, adding that his experiences as a person of color working in fine dining necessarily shaped his perspective. “We hire people that don’t get jobs in other restaurants. Being a black man who was rejected a lot in kitchens, I think it helped me realize there are a lot of people who don’t get the looks. How can we work with them?”
According to Samuelsson, 80 percent of his staff comes from Newark, and the rest from nearby in New Jersey. The executive chef Leo Marino Leonardo, who worked at Red Rooster, grew up five minutes from the restaurant. “The two things I never saw in kitchens coming up were people of color and women,” he says, adding his background allowed him to understand the real reasons why this was case. “I just knew I wanted to give people a shine, regardless of people’s background. Regardless of whether you stole a bike when you were 16. I don’t care. I don’t care. You shouldn’t be judged for that when you’re 27.”
Marcus B&P, 56 Halsey St., nr. Bleeker St., Newark