Marquee Restaurants Aim to Turn Rockefeller Center Into Dining Hotspot

The teams behind King, Atomix, and Olmsted plan to breathe life back into Midtown Manhattan with new breakfast offerings and nighttime cachet.

Rockefeller Center
By Kate Krader
November 02, 2021 | 10:02 AM

Bloomberg — Rockefeller Center is continuing its push to grab the mantle of New York’s top dining destination.

Three of New York’s most singular and popular restaurants—King, Atomix, and Olmsted —will open outposts at Rock Center in Spring 2022. They’re the newest names that have been enticed to Midtown Manhattan by Tishman Speyer Properties LP, owner of the 22-acre art deco empire.

They join the marble-lined, all-day Milanese caffe Lodi that opened in September, and the upcoming project from the owners of Frenchette, which is set to open in the former Brasserie Ruhlman space in January.

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The chic Italian caffe Lodi goes big on breakfast (left); later in the day, it's an aperitivo destination.dfd

None of the upcoming restaurants has confirmed names or menus. Atomix, Olmsted, and Frenchette have all done pop-ups in locations around Rockefeller Center, but say their permanent spots will be different.

If a single theme has emerged, it’s that breakfast is a way to bring in traffic.

“Business breakfasts, business lunches—we’re excited to bring back the restaurant business meeting,” says Jess Shadbolt, chef and co-owner of King, the Dolce Vita-evoking dining room in SoHo.

Greg Baxtrom, chef and owner of the engaging backyard Brooklyn hotspot Olmsted, sees the opportunity to upend such standards as croissants and yogurt bowls for a far-ranging audience.

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“It’s a chance to feed people going into work, people starting their day. There’s a lot of people on the plaza by 11 a.m.”

“Rock Center is known to be active in the mornings,” says EB Kelly, managing director at Tishman Speyer. At least, it was before the pandemic, when some 20,000 workers populated the buildings, and approximately 60,000 people passed through the Center’s subway station each day.

But tourism is still down about 50% in New York, and offices are still less than half full. Only 41% of the city’s office workers are expected to be back at their desks for fourth-quarter 2021, and Rock Center employees now number only “in excess of 30%,” according to Kelly.

Still, Rockefeller Center believes one way to attract Big Apple locals is to give them a marquee restaurant. “New Yorkers will go anywhere for great food,” says Kelly.

For the chefs, Midtown represents a bigger stage on which to play. “I had some skepticism about Rock Center,” says Baxtrom; but “I want my national profile to expand.” He is designing his menu to appeal to the neighborhood as well as an international crowd, and will offer dishes like squab that fetch higher prices than what he can serve at Olmsted. “I’m intending to play to crowd favorites—an Olmsted version of oysters Rockefeller,” says Baxtrom. “We are playing around with what a club sandwich could look like.”

“It’s the original Hudson Yards,” says Lee Hanson, who—with Riad Nasr—is the chef and co-owner of Frenchette. Their new spot will be the kind of all-day and evening space that might make you think of SoHo’s Balthazar, which he and Nasr opened with restaurateur Keith McNally. “We’re going to be open fairly continuously from breakfast through dinner,” adds Nasr. “Balthazar exists in that neighborhood as a hub. We have a new hub to build.” The space will have 130 seats inside, including the bar, with at least 60 seats outdoors. “We’ll be attractive to a business clientele, we understand a power lunch. But we’ll also be conscious of tourists who are shopping for value,” says Hanson.

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The King restaurant will be on the north side of the rink, also with outdoor seating, and more space than the 75-seat downtown location allows. “We’ll be open breakfast, lunch, and dinner, seven days a week,” says co-chef and owner Clare de Boer. “It’s a chance to expand our repertoire. I reckon these will be the world’s best-fed office workers.”

During the summer, the chefs from Atomix and Olmsted popped up at Dine at 620, a space with a view.dfd

The new restaurant from Ellia and Junghyun Park will not mirror their two Michelin-starred Atomix, the creative Korean spot that recently rocketed into the World’s 50 Best Restaurant list. “We are hoping to tell the story of Korean cuisine that is underrepresented overseas. Rather than the strong, bold flavors of Korean barbecue, for example, it will showcase the subtle and delicate flavors of Korea,” says Junghyun.

Other new locations in Rockefeller Center include Breads Bakery, in a bi-level space in the Simon & Schuster building; owner Gadi Peleg says his focus will be on getting people in and out quickly, with such bestsellers as chocolate babka and its scrambled egg breakfast sandwich. The irreverent beermaker Other Half Brewing is opening a taproom as well as an outdoor beer garden; and Brooklyn-based Ace’s Pizza is launching its first Manhattan spot.

An additional challenge facing the new roster of restaurants: attracting nighttime visitors to a deserted neighborhood. Pebble Bar, from the team behind the Smile and Jane Ballroom, will work to create a nightlife vibe; the multi-level lounge is set in a townhouse at the corner of 49th Street and Sixth Avenue that was formerly a pub frequented by NBC employees.

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Kelly also sees an opportunity to engage the neighborhood, beyond just office workers logging hours during the day. “There are a lot of cool things that happen at Rock Center, and we can do a better job of keeping people here.” She notes that 21 weekend nights a year, Saturday Night Live brings in a fervent audience, and Broadway is nearby.

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“Christie’s is one of our major tenants. They have major sales, selling Hockney’s for record-setting prices. It’s a perfect clientele that we want to stick around,” she adds.

“How many tens of thousands of people go to Rockefeller Center?” asks Frenchette’s Nasr.

He likes the idea of an all-day escape for people whether they’re arriving from a few buildings away or another continent. “More than any other restaurant we’ve done, this will be a place for people to come in at breakfast, to come in at 3, to come in at night.” He continues: “Whether you’re sous pression (under the gun) or there to have a leisurely opulent experience, you can sit and have oysters and Champagne” and look at the towering buildings that have defined New York for decades.

Baxtrom also sees opportunity to take advantage of Rockefeller Center’s own popular calendar of events. His Brooklyn restaurant has a cult following for its make your-own-s’mores dessert. “I did start that conversation with Tishman Speyer. ‘Why not do s’mores during the Christmas tree lighting?’”