And while Boulud might not be charging toward the limited-service segment any time soon, casual elements have seeped into the formula, thanks to pandemic-era operations like Daniel Boulud Kitchen. The new business model was originally born out of another project altogether. Just a month after COVID began, the chef teamed up with Marc Holliday, CEO of SL Green Realty Corp and Boulud’s business partner in Le Pavillon, to found the Food1st Initiative, which brought back restaurant workers across New York to prepare thousands of meals for healthcare workers, first responders, elderly residents, and food-insecure families.
With limited staff in the kitchen, Boulud saw an opportunity to reignite business, at least in some fashion. Customers were regularly calling to ask if the restaurant could prepare meals for takeout, so the chef decided to do just that, beginning Memorial Day 2020. Like Restaurant Daniel, the off-premises menus regularly changed and included dishes like bouillabaisse, cassoulet, and braised short ribs, among others.
At a time when consumers were relegated to a mix of cooking and takeout, Boulud’s to-go option presented a welcome upgrade. Customers might not be able to revel in the ambiance, but they could still enjoy fare from a storied, Two-Michelin Star institution.
Over the summer, Daniel Boulud Kitchen expanded to the Hamptons, where it would send a truck on weekends with meal kits. The concept also moved onto platforms like Caviar and Grubhub.
“Suddenly we ended up with boxes everywhere, and we became a cooking-and-packing operation, which was not really in line with what Restaurant Daniel was meant to be,” Boulud says. “At the same time, we had a lot of fun making amazing dishes, and we didn’t care about being the cheapest. We cared about being the best.”
Daniel Boulud Kitchen eventually moved onto Goldbelly where meal kits, macarons, and more are still available for nationwide delivery. But once restrictions eased to permit 25 percent capacity, Boulud eagerly turned his attention back to the dine-in experience. Given the months of lockdown, he wanted the restaurant to be an escape of sorts, and thus began Boulud Sur Mer.
Designed to evoke the coast of southern France, the pop-up encompassed the inside of Restaurant Daniel as well as its long sidewalk. Boulud worked with architect Stephanie Goto to add greenery and ocean-blue screens for a stylishly distanced interior.
“We needed to break the expectations and take people to a different setting. So that’s what [Goto] successfully did inside,” Boulud says. “The vegetation, trees, and screens really helped make people feel very safe and comfortable.”
The chef adds that his gravitation to “go more green” started while building Le Pavillon, where half the venue is a garden and the other half a 120-seat restaurant.
But for all these flourishes, the real departure from the norm was the exterior of Restaurant Daniel where private bungalows were constructed for intimate and secluded dining. Though they sported beachy pink-and-white stripes, the bungalows stayed up through the winter months, thanks to heaters and closable curtains.