Alex and Kevin Pemoulie's Thirty Acres, the Kickstarter-funded, Momofuku alum-powered restaurant that brought creative small plates and long tasting menus to a somewhat unlikely locale – Jersey City – will close. The restaurant "just sort of ran its course," Mr. Pemoulie, the chef, told Eater. The final dinner service will take place on Saturday, November 28th. Afterwards, the couple will move to Alex's native Seattle, where they "eventually" hope to open something up.
"We've been planning this for about a year," Pemoulie said on Monday, adding that he and Alex had initially considered finding a chef to keep the 32-seat venue running while they moved out west. "But honestly, it wasn't really working out. It wasn't financially stable, or the type of thing where we could sustain our family life with our new daughter. That's probably for a lot of reasons. Maybe the timing wasn't right. Maybe Jersey City didn't want us, or we didn't want them at the right time. There's no negative here whatsoever. We're really, really happy to move on."
Kevin made a name for himself as the longtime chef de cuisine at David Chang's Momofuku Noodle Bar, where he helped that restaurant develop its famous Korean-Southern fried chicken dinner. His wife, Alex, was Momofuku's director of finance. The couple, following a Kickstarter campaign that raised over $18,000, opened Thirty Acres in 2012 to widespread acclaim, earning raves from this critic as well as from Pete Wells, who awarded two stars for the New York Times.
"A restaurant like Thirty Acres would be a find in any state," Wells wrote. "It is the kind of place that can redraw regional boundaries, making the Hudson River no more of a barrier to eaters in search of inventive cooking than the East River has become in the past few years. For those who live near a PATH station, it may be easier to reach than several talked-about restaurants in Brooklyn."
"I opened a restaurant with my husband, it didn't work out, we had a kid, and now we're moving across the country" by Alex Pemoulie— Alex MW Pemoulie (@amagwheels) October 5, 2015
Early on at Thirty Acres, Pemoulie served the type of spicy, oily, fishy, and sometimes haute-junk food-y fare that one might've encountered at a Momofuku restaurant. Among his signature dishes were homemade corned beef, laced with hazelnut maple syrup, and raw sliced hamachi, spiked with fiery jalapeno puree. Then in 2015 the restaurant took an even more ambitious turn and switched to a tasting menu-only format of 10 courses for $75, paving the way for a glowing three star review from this critic. "A long set menu is precisely what Jersey City needs," I wrote. "Restaurants, like communities and the people living in them, deserve a chance to evolve in unexpected ways, even if that means the institution becomes pricier for all."
Still, Thirty Acres in 2015 was never quite as full as the restaurant was in 2012. Pemoulie says he's found a group who's willing to take over the space and the liquor license. That's not an inexpensive proposition. A set number of liquor licenses are issued in the Garden State, on a population basis per town. As a result, certain restaurants will pay upwards of $100,000 to obtain one of the scare permits, while other more cash-strapped businesses let guests bring their own beverages, creating a set of diners that are, in Pemoulie's words, "dependent" on BYO.
"The day that everything started to go downhill was the day that we stopped being BYOB," Pemoulie said. Thirty Acres received its license in the spring of 2013, and started selling beer and wine shortly afterward. "That day was the beginning of the end for our restaurant. We never just really recovered. We lost customers because it was strictly BYOB."
With the move to Seattle, the Pemoulies will become the latest in a string of high profile chefs or restaurateurs to flee the pricey tri-state area. Gavin Kaysen, the Michelin-starred chef at Cafe Boulud, left New York last year to open Spoon & Stable in his native Minneapolis. And Michael Toscano, once the top chef at Gabe Stulman's small empire of West Village restaurants, left the city in 2014 to move to South Carolina with his family.
"It's tough to open a restaurant in New York that's going to be around for 20 years," Pemoulie said. "I don't think that's a negative quality; that's just New York City. It's really like, chew you up and spit you out." He described Seattle, by contrast, as a city that "might sustain a neighborhood mom and pop longer than 2-3 years."
Pemoulie stressed, however, that he and Alex would be taking a proper hiatus upon moving out. "We really want to take a break from fine dining and full service dining. We're not going to do anything for a minute. We're going to feel out the city and see what's going on there and see where we can fit in."
He went on: "We just want to do something that everyone's going to like. We don't want to be fighting this crazy fight anymore. We want to be a crowd-pleasing place. We don't to be a place that is pushing your boundaries, and telling people what they should and shouldn't like. We just want to do something that's truthful and honest. We just need a break from this restaurant rat race."
The chef sounded upbeat about the prospect of a more laid back approach to cuisine in the Pacific Northwest. "You can actually go to Seattle and eat something that's not trendy. You can go eat a plate of cockles and people think that's awesome. And you know why? Because it is."
This article was updated from its original version to include comments from Kevin Pemoulie