Retail Spotlight: Made Nice

The fast-casual lunch competition in New York City is fierce, and it takes something unique to stand out from the crowd.  Made Nice, which opened in early April, is doing something unique.  Whereas many of the fast-casual and quick-service restaurants in NYC have adopted the Chipotle-style assembly line for expedient service and a customized experience, the Made Nice team is swimming in the opposite direction.  There are no substitutions.  There is no assembly line.  And you do not walk away with your food when you pay—you wait for it.

That’s because the team behind the Number One restaurant in the world is behind this concept.  Eleven Madison Park, and NoMad and NoMad Bar owners Daniel Humm and Will Guidara have brought their hospitality-first, fine-dining approach to the fast casual game, to great effect.  Guests enter a high-ceiling, warm-yet-edgy expanse with an open kitchen showing off a fleet of cooks in crisp chef whites using shining copper pots. Rather than registers, a team of servers greet people with iPad from aside a merchandise table.  The menu is hung, item by item, to the wall above the table listing $11-$15 salads; $6 soft serve; and tap beer, wine, and homemade sodas from $3.5 to $9.

In the evenings, to draw in a crowd with more expendable time, the kitchen cooks up a Chicken Frites—half of a roasted chicken with herb fries and a salad for $22.  As a light meal for two, it’s a steal for such quality in NYC’s price points.  Kirk Kelewae, an EMP alum, is running the enterprise, which is operating with a line out the door.

Those pots are polished nightly.  The head chef, Danny DiStefano, got his start with Chef Humm at Eleven Madison Park.  The dishes are prepared in custom bagasse plates and served on stylish, slim black trays, which 31 guests can take to eat in aside a Shepard Fairey mural.  Each dish is a version of an item from Humm’s tasty arsenal; salmon rosti with frisee, egg, and buttermilk vinaigrette; khao salad with hanger steak, parmesan, and crispy shallots; soft serve with honey brittle and oat shortbread.  From entering to eating, the concept is cool, calm, and collected, but also fresh, and exciting.

The Takeaway: The fast-casual category is evolving, and that creates dramatic shifts.  Made Nice is making room for itself in the middle—slower than price-point competitors like Dig Inn, but faster than quality-competitors like Made Nice’s sister restaurant, NoMad.  This gives the concept a healthy average check, and a worthwhile guest count.  As the lower-end segment of this market continues to saturate, we expect to see Made Nice take the lead on its front.  They’ve created a sharp space with the right food, design, and energy to lure customers in from lunch to dinner.

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