This Restaurant Makes Its Own Rules


We’ve gotta have a great show, with a million laughs… and color… and a lot of lights to make it sparkle. And songs – wonderful songs. And after we get the people in that hall, we’ve gotta start em in laughing right away. Oh, can’t you just see it… ?”

— Judy Garland, “Babes In Arms”, 1939.
It’s like an old Mickey Rooney movie. Hey kids, let’s put on a restaurant!
It’s What Happens When, it’s opening this month in New York’s Soho, and it’s a crash course in how not to run a restaurant.

The owner has signed a lease on a building that will be demolished before the end of the year.
There’s no sign in front.
The bar is stocked with one brand of each spirit, and the wine list is a choice of red (2), white (2), or sparkling (1).
And did I mention you’ll be setting your own table?

What Happens When is a risky proposition that is doomed from the start, which is just as the owner intended.

Chef-owner John Fraser’s other restaurant is Dovetail, an elegant space with an ambitious menu and wine list and a Michelin star. It’s a serious dining destination with a serious reputation; a chef’s dream. But there’s a catch: Dovetail has backers to answer to for the millions in start-up capital, dozens of cooks to retrain for every menu change, and diners who arrive each night expecting a specific experience.

What Happens When is all about creative risk-taking.
Chef Fraser stripped away all of the requirements, conventions, trappings, and rituals of fine dining to get to the core experience of the food. Everything else is up for grabs. Joined in the endeavor by a photographer, a composer, and two designers, WHW will reinvent itself every 30 days with a new menu, visual theme, tweaked decor, and accompanying soundtrack.

In sharp contrast to the costly, protracted odyssey of the typical restaurant opening, each month’s transformation will be an overnight, hands-on, improvisational process. The team is acutely aware of the wrecking ball looming at lease’s end, and they plan to keep the redesigns long on imagination and short on budget.

Here today, gone by October.

The opening menu will probably be a three-course prix fixe for $58 with entrees like a veal shank, braised pork cheeks, and Dover sole. You can make reservations through the Urban Spoon website.

The opening theme is ‘Reflecting’. What Happens When wants to crowdsource future themes, as well as the investment to fund them. Visit the WHW Kickstarter page to help.


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4 Responses to This Restaurant Makes Its Own Rules

  1. Monet says:

    How interesting! There is so much I don’t know about the restaurant world. This is such a different and fascinating concept. I would love to try the place out. Thank you for sharing this with me. I hope your weekend bursts forth in hope and joy!

  2. I’m loving this underground restaurant movement! I’ve got friends who have pulled one off in Belfast, and then another in Nashville. Each one I’ve heard about has a particular character. This is the first one I’ve come across that has such a timeline on it. Gives it an air of urgency!

  3. Janice says:

    Remember, it’s the limited (one brand) bar menu and wine list.
    The January menu should be posted any minute, but who knows what March will bring. Have fun.

  4. Michael says:

    I’m thinking I want to try this in March. Is it BYOB to boot?

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Is it appropriate conversation for the dinner table? Then it should be fine.

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