A huge overhaul is coming to Gerard Craft's flagship restaurant.
The 2015 James Beard Award winner for Best Chef: Midwest announced this morning that Niche in Clayton will close its doors Sat., June 11.
Craft will reopen the restaurant as Sardella, a modern Italian concept, within four to six weeks following a remodel. Sardella will serve breakfast, lunch and dinner.
"It felt right to move on at this point," Craft says. "Niche has always been farm-to-table, [focused on] the slow foods movement. I'm really proud of what we accomplished as a team [with the regionalism focus]. We've kept pushing; we felt the need to rise to the reputation. Now we can support local companies we couldn't before – local chocolate companies, local beer, cooking with local coffee."
Over the past few years, Craft and his team have narrowed the focus of Niche's menu to what they refer to as "extreme regionalism" – limiting themselves solely to ingredients sourced within a 300-mile radius. Sardella will take a decidedly different direction, focusing on fresh and modern seasonal fare inspired by old-world Italian techniques. The restaurant's name is a reference to an ancient Italian version of fish sauce.
"You rarely see it even in Italy [today]," Craft says, "[but] we're digging back into the history [of Italian cuisine] to find things we can revitalize and make fun again. Despite the name, I don't see this as only an Italian restaurant – the food will be uniquely ours with a wink to Italy."
Menu items at Sardella will be priced in the $12 to $20 range. For breakfast and lunch, options will include a mix of creative grain bowls, salads, sandwiches, fresh juices and rotating specials, as well as pastries developed by executive pastry chef Sarah Osborn. The restaurant will also serve an extensive coffee program from St. Louis' Sump Coffee – Craft says Sump founder Scott Carey has already helped him select a new espresso machine for Sardella.
Craft says dinner entrees will include hand-stuffed pasta dishes and roasted meats, referencing a recent slow-roasted pork shoulder dish served at Niche as an example, as well as seafood. The dinner menu will also feature a selection of small plates meant for sharing and enjoying family-style.
In particular, Craft says to expect a much bigger bar; around eight additional seats might be gained in the remodel, as well. Sasha Malinich of St. Louis-based S. Aleksandr Malinich Design will be overseeing the remodel, and local creative agency Atomicdust, which frequently collaborates with Craft – most recently on Porano Pasta – designed Sardella's logo and branding.
Craft says he and his team had discussed closing Niche a few teams over the years. They decided that now was on the right time, on the heels of his James Beard Award win and the restaurant celebrating its 10th anniversary last fall.
"We open restaurants that we want to go to, and we talked about it – where do we want to go? – and we didn't want to go to Niche," Craft says. "It wasn't the food – it's that it carries this obligation. People dress up and come [to Niche] for special occasions, and we want to serve good food that's fun... A place that's innovative and interesting and fun and casual at night.
"When is it the right time to do something [new]? I had to trust my gut. Fine dining ebbs and flows. I don't adhere to the thing where fine dining is dead; this is not that at all. We'd rather close on top than on bottom."
Craft says that when Niche closes its doors next week, it will be on a celebratory note.
"I've seen kids grow up into adults eating in this restaurant, and kids who are now employees," he says. "You can't recreate those memories in the last month. I want to make it short and sweet and let's get on to the next thing. I don't want a long mourning time – this really is a happy moment for us, a celebration."
The news comes just a month after Craft announced that Niche executive chef Nate Hereford would depart the restaurant for San Francisco and Nick Blue, formerly the executive chef at Craft's French bistro, Brasserie, would take the helm.
An East Coast native, Craft moved to St. Louis in 2005 to open Niche. He was just 25 years old at the time, and had never even set foot in the city. In late 2012, Craft relocated Niche from its original home in the Benton Park neighborhood (now home to Kevin Nashan's Peacemaker Lobster & Crab Co.) to a new space at 7734 Forsyth Blvd. in Clayton.
The St. Louis chef and restaurateur owns five restaurants under the Niche Food Group umbrella: Niche, Brasserie, Taste, Pastaria and his newly opened fast-casual concept, Porano Pasta. This summer, Craft will open his first restaurant outside of St. Louis when a second location of Pastaria opens in Nashville.
Niche, 7734 Forsyth Blvd., Clayton, Missouri, 314.773.7755, nichestlouis.com
Editor's note: This post has been updated with additional comments from Gerard Craft.