Dig knows a thing or two about attempts to pivot. The fast-casual chain has been throwing stuff to the wall to see what sticks long before the pandemic pivot became a catch-all term to describe running a restaurant post-2020. Remember the souped-up delivery program Room Service? The Boston breakfast menu? The fact that it also runs an impressive full-service restaurant, 232 Bleecker, that isn’t branded as Dig in any noticeable way? The switch from Dig Inn to just Dig?
Diners aren’t the only ones who have noticed the chaos at Dig. The chain’s newly instated director of innovation freely admits that Dig has done too much innovating. “We do everything,” says Kay Teo. “We’ve done too much.”
But this new experiment, she says — this is one worth watching. Over the past several months, Dig gutted its location near Union Square, at 127 Fourth Avenue, at East 13th Street, and has converted it into Dig on 4th, a sit-down restaurant with a revamped menu that opens on May 18. Offices temporarily emptied out, and the once-formidable lunch lines aren’t always around. In response, Teo and her team ripped out its bowl assembly line and installed an actual dining room — with a self-serve coffee bar and wine and beer in the fridge — in the hopes that, perhaps, they can make a 40-seat version of Dig that isn’t just for office lunch crowds.
To start, Dig on 4th’s menu — run by Le Coucou alum and Dig on 4th chef Frank Montero — has been split to appeal to both those who like change and those who hate change. For diners ordering online from their offices or apartments, Dig on 4th’s menu for takeout and delivery looks virtually the same as any other of the chain’s shops. Go inside, and there’s a more built-out menu available for dine-in or takeout in a sunny all-day cafe setting. Brown butter chocolate chip cookies and crispy, golden squares of focaccia — both influenced by 232 Bleecker recipes — glisten in a pastry case near the front register. There are veggie smashburgers, meatball parms, and sheet-tray dinners for two, all served in actual dishware, including fry baskets and trays. A cold fridge is stocked with cans of beer starting at $4 apiece, $40 bottles of wine, and squeeze bottles of Dig’s most popular sauces that customers can take to their tables.
But even with the beer and the real plateware, Teo knows that it’s still a gamble on whether a sunny sit-down spot sticks for Dig. It hasn’t for others who have tried to walk the tightrope between bowl food and dine-in food in NYC: California-based Tender Greens permanently closed down both of its NYC locations in the first year of the pandemic. Sweetgreen 3.0 was a miss. However, Teo notes that the takeout portion of the business at Dig on 4th is still available, and the shop is aiming to send out all of its food — whether its a veggie smashburger to stay or a kale Caesar salad to go — in less than five minutes per order.
Teo herself has also been navigating this balance. Prior to Dig, she held leadership roles building out Southeast Asian franchise locations for Burger King, and working for a Japanese restaurateur who currently holds a Guinness World Record for fastest time to scale a franchise to 1,000 locations, she says. On the other hand, she also was one of Junzi star chef Lucas Sin’s core team members to help build out the popular Underground Noodle Club pop-ups when they were both in school.
At Dig on 4th, Teo is applying a layer of big business pragmatism to Dig’s latest flashy idea. The company has a more informed test strategy, now: The beer and wine is also being piloted in a suburban location of Dig, to get a better idea of how alcohol sales perform in different markets. There’s also restraint: The coffee bar is simply a self-serve pot of drip coffee — no cold brew, no espresso drinks. “We’re trying to be very structured with the way we test this time around,” she says.
If Dig on 4th takes off, however, Dig will likely expand the sit-down restaurant to other neighborhoods. But Teo avoids outlining concrete expansion plans at this stage, except for one area where she’s already willing to place her bets: “I think this would do fantastically in Brooklyn,” she says.
Dig on 4th is open seven days a week, from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.