Farewell to Le Gavroche. The London landmark is closing. Bloomberg photo by Chris Ratcliffe

Restaurant lovers were despondent on both sides of the Atlantic last week. In London, two-Michelin-starred Le Gavroche, a beloved 56-year-old exponent of classic French cooking in Mayfair (famous for a lobster starter that, if inflected with caviar, can set you back $100), announced that it would shut down permanently early next year. In New York, the three-starred Chef’s Table at Brooklyn Fare – acclaimed for its innovative and beautiful tasting courses – dramatically faded to black as a behind-the-scenes feud between chef and owner broke out into public and litigious acrimony.

The week before, one of my favorite spots in Manhattan, Marta on East 29th Street, said its last service would take place Aug. 25. My friends and I were such regulars we created an Instagram hashtag for our visits there: #martaholics. There are at least 770 posts of its Roman-style cuisine, remarkable pizzas and impeccable wines.

When the world is unsettled by so many serious issues, mourning a restaurant may seem indulgent. But there’s more involved than hedonist tears. Restaurants have become barometers of the health of society and business. Many a community has been sustained by chefs – indeed many have been rebuilt by restaurateurs who opened their businesses there.

In 2010, Christian Puglisi’s Relae braved street thugs and drug dealers to begin the renewal of grimy Jaegersborggade in Copenhagen. It transformed the area for the better. There’s been a cultural vacuum there since it closed in 2020. In Spain, towns like Denia and Roses have benefited from the nearby presence of top-ranked restaurants. Contra helped change the tenor of rundown Orchard Street when it opened 10 years ago in Manhattan’s Lower East Side. Again and again, eateries large and small have played pivotal roles in reviving or creating communities.

Governments recognize this culinary contribution to microeconomic well-being, hence the vast amounts of money pumped out to support restaurants as the COVID-19 pandemic began sweeping the world in 2020. It was an existential moment and, while many closed anyway, a lot more survived. But the business of making people happy has always been hellishly difficult and expensive. In March, I had a conversation with a top chef in New York – who asked not to be named because of the sensitivities around restaurant accounting – who said that the residual dividends of the subsidies were running out and to expect a run of closures soon. Is that what’s happening?

In July, a month before he announced Le Gavroche would be closing, chef Michel Roux told the Times: “It is a tough business with small margins, especially now with almost 20% food inflation. If you’re not balancing the books, you’re finished.” It’s hard no matter how haute or bas a cook you are. Still, in an interview with the Times that appeared with the news of the closing, Roux says it’s not about money. He’s just tired of running a kitchen day-to-day. He inherited the restaurant from his father and uncle, who founded it in 1967. His daughter is a chef but has her own eatery in Notting Hill. And he has other businesses to tend to.


In 2020, Puglisi said as much to Eater when he closed Relae: “I like to see restaurant years like dog years. In this analogy, each year represents seven years in this industry – because they are very intense ones. In the first years, (the restaurant is) like a child; you really need to take care of raising it and shaping its character. But as it evolves, it grows without the need of your constant surveillance. And when your kids grow up, someday they move out. Of course, it’s sad, but it’s also the most beautiful thing.”

The fallout, however, is deep and wide: Staff must be let go; suppliers of vegetables, meat and other produce will lose clients; dining regulars will feel dispossessed. It can be a massive tear in the fabric of a community. In 2017, Annisa – perhaps my favorite New York City restaurant of all time – closed because a potential increase in the lease would make it impossible to continue business. The Greenwich Village gem had survived 9/11, the global financial meltdown, and a fire, but it could no longer navigate the commercial real estate market. And this was before the pandemic worked its poison on Gotham property.

In March, almost six years after, I stopped by to see what had taken its place. Nothing. The old gold stenciled name was still on the front window, almost obscured by a ratty synthetic curtain behind the glass.

There can be happy endings. Or, more accurately, new beginnings. Annisa’s chef, Anita Lo, is now leading exquisite culinary tours around the world. Meanwhile, her sous chef and life partner Mary Attea runs the kitchens at two critically acclaimed spots: Musket Room and Raf’s, both on Elizabeth St. in the Soho district of Manhattan.

Diners, however, like to cling to the ambiance and cooking they’ve grown accustomed to. And that will be impossible to replicate when one-of-a-kind restaurants no longer exist (I still dream of Lo’s foie gras soup dumplings). At least, Le Gavroche has given its regulars time to plan their dining schedules around next year’s shuttering – just as Rene Redzepi’s Noma in Copenhagen has done (the Danish restaurant will continue to serve its elaborate tasting menus till the end of 2024).

Chef’s Table at Brooklyn Fare was a surprise – though one regular now says there may have been a premonition when the budget for the wine program was supposedly frozen in March. According to The New York Times, Chef Cesar Ramirez promises a fresh venture; his ex-business partner says Brooklyn Fare will reopen with a new chef and staff. In the meantime, lawyers on both sides are sharpening their knives.

Hospitality is an industry – as odd as that may sound – and, in the end, as Roux said, if you can’t balance the books, it’s all over. But if the business is making people happy, it’s a sad way to go.

Howard Chua-Eoan is a columnist for Bloomberg Opinion covering culture and business. He previously served as Bloomberg Opinion’s international editor and is a former news director at Time magazine. This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.

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