Co-owners Patricia Howard and Ed Szymanski of Dame — the summertime English pop-up that captivated the city with highly-praised fish and chips, cocktails, and sellout Sunday guest chef appearances — are settling down permanently in the West Village. The pair have signed a lease at 87 MacDougal Street (near Bleecker Street), one door down from the original pop-up location, and are planning to open Dame as an English-leaning seafood restaurant in late May or early June.
The move marks the first full-service restaurant opening for 29-year-old Howard and 27-year-old Szymanski, and they’re coming out swinging. Imagine Le Bernardin with a vibe, they say. “It will be like if someone applied that attention to detail with the sourcing and the cooking and the ingredients, but removed all the stuffiness, all the tablecloths, and put it in a packed, 20-seat downtown New York City restaurant,” Szymanksi says. “That’s the kind of feeling that we want to create.”
To get there, Szymanksi — formerly the executive chef at Brooklyn’s Cherry Point, which earned a two-star review from the Times during his tenure — has plotted out a straightforward seafood menu that will likely include dishes like grilled oysters, shrimp skewers, and scallop crudos. The star of Dame’s pop-up, the fish and chips, will reappear, and there are plans to bring back the popular Eton mess, an English dessert of strawberries, whipped cream, and meringue that the pair sold throughout the summer.
While Dame, which is currently open as a deli and bottle shop, will be a seafood restaurant with a laid-back atmosphere, don’t expect to see another take on a lobster roll or a tuna tartare taco land on the menu. “It’s not going to be gimmicky,” Szymanski says. “It’s going to be local seafood, sourced carefully, cooked simply, seasoned accurately, in a very fun room.” The majority of Dame’s fish will be sourced from Liepper and Sons on Long Island; Natoora will supply produce; and Nora Allen of Mel the Bakery will supply bread.
Szymanski’s well-treated seafood also played a part in finally convincing the building’s landlord to sit down with them and discuss taking over the space, which previously housed Japanese restaurant Fukurou. “I gave him some of our whitefish salad one day,” Szymanski says. “He called us that evening and was like, ‘Oh, this is amazing. You guys know what you’re doing. Let’s move forward.’”
Howard and Szymanski signed on ceramist and chef Fernando Aciar and James Beard award-winning designer Anna Polonsky, both former regulars at Cherry Point, to spearhead the look of the restaurant. The space will feature an open kitchen that will sit squarely in the middle of the dining room, giving diners full view of Szymanski and his team at work during service. Banquettes will be installed around the perimeter of the 440-square-foot space. The front of the restaurant boasts a giant set of French doors that will swing open in the summer, turning the restaurant into an indoor-outdoor hangout with sidewalk and roadside seating available in warmer months. “Once there’s some return to normalcy and COVID-19 vaccines are distributed, we want the buzzy feeling that people got being inside an exciting New York City restaurant,” Szymanski says.
Dame’s crowd-favorite Sunday guest chef series at the pop-up will return at the full-service restaurant, and could include chefs outside of NYC once travel reopens. The pair are also planning to continue donating part of their proceeds to different charitable organizations. Throughout last year, Dame donated nearly $20,000 to different local non-profits including Hot Bread Kitchen and the Black Chef Movement.
For the next phase of Dame, however, Howard and Szymanski are not just focused on making the restaurant a fun place to eat, but also a decent place to work. A tip credit won’t be baked into anyone’s wages, they say; instead, Dame will pay all staffers at least $15 an hour and pool all of the restaurant’s tips to be split equally among front and back-of-house staffers. The move is an effort to address the wage gap that can develop between servers and kitchen staff due to the way that tips are distributed. Now, thanks to a new federal law that went into effect in December, restaurants that don’t take a tip credit can pool tips among the whole staff.
“This is pretty major for our friends who have been line cooks for the past, you know, five years and never made more than X amount,” Howard says. “To be receiving tips, it’ll just make a huge difference.” The pair are also working through options to provide healthcare for their six to seven staff members, and plan to add in regular community outreach and volunteer opportunities for their team.
Implementing these kinds of measures can be costly for owners, but Howard and Szymanski see these steps as non-negotiable components of running a restaurant. “It’s defined in business plans and by chefs as your ‘labor costs,’ which makes it seem like it’s just like your food costs or your electric costs, when it’s really not,” Szymanski says. “It’s other people’s lives, and they are relying on you.”
For the next couple of months, Howard and Szymanski will continue to run Dame’s winter deli and bottle shop — stocked with items like bread and pastries from Mel, tortillas from Yellow Rose, and, yes, fish and chips on Fridays and Saturdays — through March. At that time, they’ll wind the shop down to focus solely on the restaurant opening.
Dame’s sample menu: