After several years out of restaurants, Stephen Hanson — the founder of monster hospitality group BR Guest — is back in the business with Henry at Life Hotel.
The new restaurant at the southern end of Midtown at 19 West 31st St., between Fifth and Sixth avenues, opened over the weekend with a menu of crowd-pleasing shareable plates from BR Guest alum chef Michael Vignola. Expect dishes like a burrata with kabocha squash, pizzas, pastas, and roasted chicken thighs. See the full menu below.
Hanson founded BR Guest in 1987 and is behind a slew of similarly crowd-pleasing places, like Dos Caminos, pan-Asian clubstaurant Ruby Foo’s, and Bill’s Bar and Burger. He sold his stake in BR Guest in 2013, and since then, he hasn’t been back in the restaurant world.
Henry might sound like a big comeback for Hanson, who’s considered one of the NYC dining scene’s most influential players, but the reason for getting back into restaurants was practical — he’s only doing it because he’s his own landlord. He’s a partner in the hotel, meaning Henry doesn’t have to pay rent. “I’m tired of being a bitch to the landlord,” Hanson says. And since the restaurant lives in a space of the hotel that used to the lobby, other costs such as insurance and putting in electricity were moot, he adds.
That ties into the primary thing the restaurateur wants people to get out of Henry: a good deal. Hanson argues that the cost of the food there is low considering its quality. He expects people to share meals and for check averages to be between $42 and $60. In the three years he’s been out of the industry, the primary problem he’s seen is poor cost-to-quality ratio, he says.
“When you get into the $60 price point and under, the quality and value for the price is not there,” Hanson says of the current dining scene. “There’s a big void. I think consumers are almost getting cheated by not having better quality for that price.”
With that formula, Hanson wants Henry to be a neighborhood restaurant. The restaurateur, who’s had experience betting on neighborhoods before, predicts the area around the hotel will soon pop off with the help of places like his. “I think it’s going to be the new Meatpacking District,” he says.
Henry is now open for dinner, from 5 p.m. to 10:30 p.m. Sunday through Wednesday and 5 p.m. to midnight from Thursday to Saturday. Breakfast, lunch, and brunch will eventually be added.