Semilla in Williamsburg, the vegetable-forward chef’s counter restaurant that opened to acclaim in 2014, will close after service on Saturday. In a city overrun with overpriced omakase offerings and overindulgent tasting menus, Semilla has been a rare bastion of relative affordability and restraint. The price of the ten-course menu is $97. When it opened, it was $75.
The restaurant was born out of the roving pop-up dinners that chef-owners Pam Yung and Jose Ramirez-Ruiz used to host. But the couple split last year and Yung left Semilla.
Ramirez-Ruis said his decision to close the restaurant was “very personal,” — not related to rent, food costs, or business at the restaurant. “I don’t have any future plans. I just needed time away from the restaurant to recharge and regroup,” he said. “It’s important. . . .to allow yourself some time to breath and grow. This is the year for me.”
Ramirez-Ruiz said business did not drop off “drastically” after Yung left — she was responsible for Semilla’s acclaimed breads and desserts — but he admitted that both January and February were “tough.”
The chef first announced the shuttering on Instagram.
“Semilla has been a dream come true for me, and I want to thank everyone who helped make it possible - from our staff, to good friends, to our regulars and guests who gave us reason to open every day. After building something so beautiful, I have made the hard choice to move on to the next chapter. I am not leaving with any particular plan in mind - simply to recharge and recuperate. While I did make the decision that my time at Semilla was nearing an end, I am saddened by the choice to close the doors so quickly, and regret not being able to offer more of a chance for you to come visit us one last time. It has been such an honor to cook for you, and I cannot wait to do so again."
A day later, Yung published a lengthier note, also on Instagram, about Semilla’s lifecycle. Here’s a key excerpt from from that missive, with the full note appended below.
Semilla was always an incredibly personal project, much more than a restaurant to me. It was a movement, a statement, a culmination of 2 minds in sync for a common dream. It was an opportunity to create positive change in an industry and sector begging for it. To me, Semilla was a living entity whose life was given by the small and passionate group of people who passed through its doors. It was our duty to inspire, mentor, and lead. When its purpose became mired in ego, power dynamics, and negativity, I could bear it no longer. Love and creativity couldn't flourish in a place like that. Constant turnover made sustainability impossible.
This critic awarded four-stars to Semilla less than a year after it opened, calling it New York’s “next great restaurant.” Of the cabbage skin and slaw sandwich I wrote: “Never has a piece of bluefin tuna infected my culinary daydreams to such a degree as this sandwich, which is, for lack of a better term, a humble piece of food waste.”
It’s been a sad winter for lovers of small, innovative, fair-priced, tasting-menu spots in Brooklyn. Earlier this month, the Michelin-starred Take Root, one of the city’s toughest reservations, closed as well. It charged $120 and employed just two people: owners Elise Kornack and Anna Hieronimus. Semilla has five employees.
As promised, here’s Yung’s Instagram note, in full:
In November, my decision to walk away from a project, a staff, and a place I held so dearly in my heart, was incredibly heart wrenching, yet necessary. I departed, wishing all the success to my former colleagues, knowing that its DNA was somewhat flawed, and hoping that in my absence, some of those things could be improved upon.
Sometimes, the path forward seems like many steps backward. In the intervening months, trying to piece together a person, a 'career', a life, has been both rewarding and incredibly challenging. When the news arrived yesterday of Semilla's closure, it marked the official end of a significant chapter in my life. There was a deep well of sadness, but also, relief. I took the day to quietly reflect on what was, what could have been, and what now, is laid to rest.
Semilla was always an incredibly personal project, much more than a restaurant to me. It was a movement, a statement, a culmination of two minds in sync for a common dream. It was an opportunity to create positive change in an industry and sector begging for it. To me, Semilla was a living entity whose life was given by the small and passionate group of people who passed through its doors. It was our duty to inspire, mentor, and lead. When its purpose became mired in ego, power dynamics, and negativity, I could bear it no longer. Love and creativity couldn't flourish in a place like that. Constant turnover made sustainability impossible.
Too often, the outward success of a place isn’t necessarily indicative of its inward health. It was in seeking this, that I chose to take my personal health as a priority. I say this out loud because I know there are others out there that can take strength from knowing this.
Despite its difficulties, Semilla opened doors, relationships, and personal experiences whose value far exceeds its tenure. My deepest gratitude goes to Joe Carroll, our business partner, who gave us a platform to stand on; our staff, past and present, who animated the space with endless passion, hard work and spirit; and our friends and guests who have showed unending support through the good times and the bad. I look forward to the next chapter to build upon what we started.