Nick Elmi told Eater that he is taking over the former Fond space at 1617 E. Passyunk Ave., and is opening his very own BYOB, called Laurel. The cuisine at Laurel will be a little bit Rittenhouse Tavern and a little bit Le Bec Fin, the last two stops on Elmi's culinary journey. But, diners should know that his new restaurant will certainly not be fine dining, and the prices will reflect that. Just like Fond before it, Laurel will have around 30 seats for customers and only 2 or 3 people in the kitchen.
"Lee (Styer) and I have been talking for the last few months, and it really happened organically," Elmi told Eater. "Originally, I wanted to buy Rittenhouse Tavern from Restaurant Associates, but that didn't work out and Lee couldn't figure out a concept for the old Fond space, and now it's mine."
While the restaurant is pretty much ready to go, Elmi is holding off on opening until early November because he wants to make sure that every last detail is done perfectly, and he wants to take advantage of his upcoming appearance on Top Chef Season 11. The show debuts on October 2, which means Elmi should be 4 weeks into the competition by that point, which should fill his restaurant almost every night.
"My original plan was to take July off before starting work on the restaurant, but there was no way I could turn down Top Chef when it popped up," Elmi said. "So, the show shot in July, which fit in perfectly with my plan."
Elmi said that he had been in touch with the Top Chef people for the last few years, but his family and career didn't allow him the time to give it a real shot. The stars aligned for season 11, and here we are. Because of the NDA, he couldn't tell anyone but his closest family (his wife) that he was going on the show, but he didn't need a cover story at work since he had already left the restaurant. He is joined on the show by Ela's Jason Cichonski, but said that neither of them knew the other was competing until they walked in the front door of the house in New Orleans.
It looks like the fourth quarter of 2013 is going to be a complete life-changer for Elmi. It's not often that someone gets to star on a big time TV show and open their very first restaurant at the same time. Good luck, Nick!