In deciding to sever ties with the big-name restaurateurs who helped launch his upscale kosher restaurant, David Magerman said he had determined it was time for Citron and Rose to “take off the training wheels.”
He said the Merion Station restaurant that opened to great fanfare in November would not only remain in operation but he’s also planning to start a new kosher dairy restaurant nearby.
When Magerman, the mega-philanthropist whose Kohelet Foundation has poured millions of dollars into Jewish education, first conceived of the restaurant, he had sought as partners Michael Solomonov and Steven Cook, known for their popular establishments like Zahav, Percy Street Barbecue and Federal Donuts.
But because they owned non-kosher eateries, they were not able to become full partners of a kosher establishment. Instead, they were billed as co-creators, Solomonov took on the role as executive chef and they entered into what Magerman described as an open-ended consulting contract with annual renewal options.
By all accounts, Solomonov, a native Israeli who was a 2011 James Beard award winner, and Cook were heavily involved in every aspect of developing the restaurant, from the physical layout to the menu. They continued to help run the place even if they weren’t there every day, Magerman said.
Five months after its opening, the meat restaurant has gotten rave reviews, nationally and locally, and it is hard to get a reservation at peak times.
Though the parties will not say exactly what happened to lead to the breakup, Magerman downplayed suggestions that tensions among the staff had contributed to the fallout. He said it was a matter of the parties’ interests no longer overlapping — with him wanting to open a second restaurant sometime in the fall and to expand the catering end of the operation. Solomonov and Cook wanted to pursue other projects, he said.
He likened it to a scenario whereby you hired Michelangelo to paint your house. “He finishes two rooms and the house is spectacular.” Then you realize “you don’t need him anymore, so you shake hands and say, ‘Thank you very much.’ ”
Magerman credited Solomonov and Cook with contributing a great deal to get the restaurant off the ground. But he said he was confident that Citron and Rose could succeed on its own. The enterprise, he said, is ready to “take the training wheels off and go off on our own without the safety net.” He said he is looking to hire a new chef and that one of the line cooks is running the kitchen in the meantime.
He insisted it was a mutual decision that everyone was happy with. But neither Solomonov nor Cook would comment on the situation. They issued a statement through their public relations agency on April 25 saying only that they would no longer be affiliated with the establishment.
“Mike and I are extremely proud of what our amazing staff accomplished at Citron and Rose in such a short period of time. It was gratifying to see a full restaurant every night that served kosher cuisine to a diverse clientele. We are grateful to David Magerman for allowing us to put kosher dining in the spotlight.” They said that Yehuda Sichel, chef de cuisine, who had taken over the day-to-day responsibilities in the kitchen, would “return temporarily to Zahav as we work on our next restaurant project.”
In a phone interview, Solomonov said he couldn’t discuss more than what was in the statement. But his foray into kosher dining will apparently remain short-lived. He said he’s not planning to open another kosher establishment.