‘4 Olives’ restaurant to move downtown

By Megan Moser

One of Manhattan’s top restaurants, 4 Olives, is moving to a new space downtown, adding to a burgeoning dining and shopping scene there.

Chef and owner Scott Benjamin said he expects the restaurant to reopen Jan. 15 in the Marshall Theater building on the northeast corner of Fourth and Houston streets. (The current location will remain open until just a few days before that.)

The new space will include a bigger wine selection, an open kitchen and lots of glass —  not to mention an adjacent storefront for 4 Cakes, a bakery run by Benjamin’s wife, Rachel Benjamin, that grew out of the restaurant’s pastry operation.

When he opened 4 Olives almost 10 years ago, Benjamin said the location in a strip mall on Anderson Avenue fit his needs.

The rent wasn’t too expensive for a new business, and it was in a good location to attract potential customers on the west side of town. 

“When we opened up here, we didn’t have any track record as a restaurant,” he said. “It’s little difficult to convince a bank to invest in something with really high rent when they don’t know if it’s going to make it or not.”

And while Benjamin said he tried to make the interior of the restaurant as nice as possible, he admitted that some diners felt the location detracted from the overall experience. When he looked at the restaurant’s ratings online, he said, the food and the service often would get five stars out of five, but the ambience would get three stars.

“And I think people were being a little generous on that,” he said.

Furthermore, while there has been some development in the Plaza West area with the addition of Max Fitness and Ray’s Apple Market, it didn’t develop as much as he had hoped.

But now that the upscale eatery — which earned a nod from the James Beard Foundation this year for its wine program — has established itself, he says, it’s time to make a change.

Benjamin said that when 4 Olives opened, Poyntz wasn’t quite what he was looking for.

“Now, it looks like everything is pulling to that area,” Benjamin said. “Poyntz is going to be a legitimate dining district.”

The move makes 4 Olives a part of a recent rejuvenation of downtown.

At least two other restaurants are expected to open in the area in the next couple of months. Bourbon & Baker, 312 Poyntz Ave., will be a bar and bakery.  And longtime Aggieville staple Hibachi Hut, which closed in May, will soon reopen at 429 Poyntz Ave.  They join fine-dining restaurants Harry’s and della Voce, as well as casual spots like The Chef Cafe´ and AJ’s New York Pizzeria.

Ward Morgan, owner of Manhattan-based website company CivicPlus, owns several buildings downtown, including the Marshall building and the old Credit Bureau building, which will house Hibachi Hut. He has said he wants downtown to be a fun place where people can go hang out.

“It would be silly to not move down there at this point,” Benjamin said.

The Marshall building was built in 1909 and became the first theater in the Dickinson Theatres chain. Through the years, it has also served as a J.C. Penney store, office space and church.

It’s a place Benjamin’s grandparents went on dates in the late 1920s and early 1930s when they were college students here, which Benjamin said is a neat connection to the structure.

“We think it’s kind of a fun tie-in,” Benjamin said.

Several tenants now occupy parts of the building, but the large corner unit reserved for 4 Olives is under renovation.

Plans call for 16-foot windows, and the space has few interior walls except for the 4,000-bottle glass wine cave and a tall glass back bar where the spirits will be lined up.

“This place is, like, glassed out to the max,” Benjamin said.

The bar will have a distressed copper top. Dark panels suspended at different heights from the 18-foot ceilings will have tiny LED pendants hanging from them.

“The effect I wanted was stars and clouds at night,” he said.

The kitchen will be clad in stainless steel and open from waist level up. The restaurant will also have some chef?s tables, giving some diners a front-row seat for the cooking action.

“Everybody’s going to have to learn how to not use four-letter words in the kitchen,” Benjamin said, laughing. 

The actual space for the restaurant is not much bigger than the current space, but that’s by design, he said.

“If you get too big, you have to convert from a fine-dining restaurant that’s really focused on food and rinks to a big producer, where you have to make things quickly,”  he said.

Still, the design provides more room in the kitchen, which Benjamin said will help the chefs be more efficient and “do cooler things” like more cured meats, he said.

And then, of course, there’s the bakery. Benjamin said Rachel, a pastry chef, has always done the desserts for the restaurant. But she started getting a lot of requests for wedding cakes, cupcakes and the like, which grew into a separate endeavor, 4 Cakes.

Benjamin said his wife was busy enough that 4 Cakes was going to have to get its own space either way. He joked that “she was really getting in the way.”

“It’s something neat and different here,” he said.

The bakery will offer cupcakes and pastries as well as custom baked goods. It will have a little dining space and outdoor space.

The kitchen connects to the 4 Olives kitchen, and it will continue to produce all the desserts for the restaurant, Benjamin said.

With that daily supply of sweets, Benjamin said he hopes to offer one other thing he thinks is quite the gastronomic delight: the cupcake shake.

“You know, people think cookie dough is awesome, but somehow, when you process a frosted cupcake with ice cream, it’s ethereal,”  he said.

Benjamin said he is fortunate to be able to work with his wife of almost 20 years. They have four kids, and the two oldest help out at the restaurant.

“It’s great that Manhattan has been able to support both her bakery and my thousand-bottle wine list,” he said. “It’s nice that you can get that without going to a big city.”

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