When restaurateur John McDonald ran into a nasty non-compete lawsuit barring rising star chef Adam Leonti from working in his kitchen at Sessanta in Soho, McDonald had every intention to fight it. That fight proved too long and difficult and with too many uncertainties still looming, McDonald decided to pivot entirely: Next month, his hip Italian restaurant in the Sixty Soho hotel — located at 60 Thompson St., between Spring and Broome streets — will be transformed into Bistrot Leo, a French-style bistro.
McDonald has a prolific presence downtown with restaurants like Lure, El Toro Blanco, and Bowery Meat Company. With Bistrot Leo, he says it’s like adding a French little brother to the family. “With all of our venues, there’s a common DNA with the style of dining,” he tells Eater. As such, Bistrot Leo will not be overly fancy in its approach to French dining.
He’s tapped Brian Loiacono as chef for the venture. Loiacono’s background is in French food, having worked at Bar Boulud and as executive chef at DB Bistro Moderne. The chef is still working on the menu, but he ells Eater he’s focusing on creating balance between lighter bistro fare and some of the heartier classics. As Loiacano puts it, he wants it to be easy for one person at a table to have a veggie-focused meal and another person to have a big, juicy burger. The menu will riff on French bistro classics, he says.
The risks and difficulties associated with continuing to fight the Leonti lawsuit weren’t the only reason McDonald decided to make the change. He’s learning from some of his past mistakes, realizing after opening Sessanta how saturated downtown is with Italian restaurants, he says. “When people really love their Italian restaurant, they really love it,” he says. “If you love sushi, you might have three or four go-to sushi restaurants, but with Italian, it’s different.” According to McDonald, getting people to leave their go-to Italian spot and try something new was a significant challenge that he hadn’t anticipated at first.
While there will be some decor changes to the restaurant in the Sixty Soho hotel, nothing major will change architecturally. The aesthetic will mostly just be adjusted to reflect a more French atmosphere: “It’s more like getting a personality change,” he says.
Sessanta will close briefly at the end of the month, and Bistrot Leo will make its debut on April 1.