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Saxon + Parole's Brad Farmerie and William Harris

Welcome to One Year In, a feature in which Eater sits down for a chat with the chefs and owners of restaurants celebrating their one year anniversary.
[Brad Farmerie and William Harris by Daniel Krieger]

Last fall, chef Brad Farmerie and the AvroKo team closed their restaurant Double Crown and reopened it a month later as a brand new concept with a completely different menu and dining room. Although the critics didn't completely embrace Saxon + Parole, the restaurant was an immediate hit with downtown diners, and the restaurant has stayed busy ever since. Eater recently chatted with Brad and AvroKo's William Harris about the first year of Saxon + Parole and what they've got planned next.

Brad Farmerie, chef and partner: We always thought this spot kind of called out for a "neighborhood restaurant." When we were conceiving Saxon + Parole, we wanted somewhere that people could go once a week or more, and I think that what was here before didn't necessarily fit that brand. We wanted a meeting place with great drinks, great wine, and some approachable food that had twists and turns, but that people would want to come back to all the time.

What did you want to change in terms of the food concept?
Brad: Well menu-wise, the one thing I've ever done is fusion, spice-driven stuff — Asian. I had been doing a lot of stuff with LaFreida at the time, and so much of the stuff I tasted that they had was so great. Plus, we had been working with Heritage Farms for pork. So, we wanted to pull back and really expose these proteins for what they are. Same thing with the seafood.

Are these preparations easier or more difficult?
Brad: I think they're just different. We always sneak our weird ingredients in there, anyway. There is still fish sauce and miso and all kinds of weird stuff that people don't expect. I think that was the challenge: to present it in a format that people had seen before, but make sure it still had our signature flavors. Like, the steak sauce has about 35 ingredients in it, with two different kinds of miso, soy sauce, and dried Shitake mushrooms. So, all these things come together to give these whispers of flavor that I really like.

William, do you and your team come up with the design concept first, or does Brad come up with food concept first?
William Harris, partner: I think, very much in tune with all of our projects, the food comes first. This is a dining experience at the end of the day. That spirit, that interest, that drive is what the real foundation of what restaurants are for us.

Brad: Hopefully the design, food, menu, drinks, and graphics all have a good tie-in together, because basically we had been talking about them on their own for months.

How long did it take to create this new concept?
William: Ironically enough, this was one of our earliest ideas, even prior to Public. It had been on the back burner for a bit, and whims change and times change, so we decided to go a different route. I believe we had been planning this for about a year

Brad: Yeah, at least a good six to eight months, rattling around ideas.

Were customers surprised by how quickly you closed the space and reopened it as a new concept?
William: People were shocked, and I don't know how we managed to keep that secret as long as we did. That was something that was really a huge challenge, and frankly, I think it's miraculous that we were able to do it. I think it took four weeks. We had a definitive plan, down to the day, as to how this was going to happen.

Did the space turn out how you wanted it to? Or did you have to scrap some ideas?
William: We were really able to realize what we wanted to do here, and thankfully, the way our team operates, I think we went into it with a very realistic point of view — realistic on time and realistic on budget. If we had another million dollars and another four months, maybe we would have done some things differently.

Brad: But not better.

William: Not necessarily better, just differently. So I think that at the end of the day, we were all quite pleased and excited and thrilled to have this new experiment, and that's what's really fun about our group in general — we like to push things and try new things that from a design perspective some of our clients might be hesitant to dive into and explore.

Did people check it out?
Brad: I remember it being busy, and it's still busy, so I can't complain.
William: I do remember being quite slammed, and surprised at how quickly the word got out, because we had kept it so quiet. This was something that we didn't really ramp up by promoting it. This was going to be an "under the cover of night" type of thing. And once it did happen, people really did start to walk in, partly out of curiosity, and then other people came in that were completely new and weren't aware of the former iteration. It was still amazing to see how many people came in that were really shocked.

Was the idea to open this based on a creative desire? Or was it business-based?
William: It was truly a mix of the two. I mean we love that we're able to explore different interests and we're able to use our own spaces as an experiment. Things evolve. There is time for things in this profession, to change and evolve. And at the same time, there was a desire to...there was a little bit of financial consideration as well.

Brad: Yeah, 2008 was a weird year. 2009 was a weird year, as well. I think also it was nice to go to something that we had in our back pocket. It had been an idea that we kicked around, so it was something that was still true to our heart.

William: We opened the day — I mean the day — that Lehmans crumbled, so that was our opening party. Thankfully, we were able to really power through and have great experiences and great reviews, and things have been going quite well. It was a very energetic big box restaurant for us — a big open space that was very lively. But desires are shifting, and it wasn't necessarily the time and place for that. We have returned to a desire to cart things off, and make things more intimate and cozy.

What was the review process like?
Brad: It was tough. I think people expected something like we've done before — something really far out. I think people were expecting the next insanity, whereas with our evolution, we were going in a different direction. We were moving away from the insanity and we were looking for clarity — something pristine on the plate. But it's always a tough process. Even if it's 99 percent good, there is that one percent that you remember.

William: I share those sentiments, exactly. I think we got reviewed kind of early. The Times switchover was a bit unfortunate in general for us, but fortunately it didn't hurt business one bit. We read the reviews, and you take them with a grain of salt. There's obviously a lot of great talent and great taste buds doing reviews out there. But at the end of the day, it's busy and people are happy and we're happy, so that's all we can say about it.

Brad: It's busier than ever, to be honest. It's a train that keeps rolling faster and faster. The cocktail program and Parole Whiskey came out a bit later, so we still have a few other plans that we want to do for year two.

William: It was the first time at any of our restaurants where we had to open earlier to accommodate people coming in for after-work drinks. And that was something we had to contend with, which was curious, but a good thing.

What are you working on for year two?
Brad: We're doing a massive menu switch, but we're keeping the classics. The cocktail culture has come a long way and we have some cool stuff right around the bend. We have a ton of ideas also from opening The Thomas out in Napa. That gave us another perspective that will probably reflect back on Saxon + Parole. I think both restaurants will benefit and push forward together. There is a lot of energy between the two, and a lot of shared management that goes back and forth. I just got back, and I'm ready to get in the kitchen and change it all up. I think that fresh energy for any restaurant after a year is great.

William: We all have ADD. We very much like to support experimentation and exploration, otherwise we would get bored too easily.

Does it feel like it's been a year?
William: It does not feel like a year has ticked off already. It has gone really fast and we have been so embroiled in it all. Time really is flying for us, in general. It's really remarkable that it happened already.
· All Coverage of Saxon + Parole [~ENY~]