Yes, Jensen Cummings, exec chef of Row 14 Bistro & Wine Bar, is opening a fast-casual meatball shop this summer. And no, it's not a replica of Daniel Holzman and Michael Chernow's The Meatball Shop in NYC. But let's back up: Cummings has partnered Alex Comisar, a former GM at TAG, and Johnny Coast, the director of operations for Lotus Concepts. As reported today in The DU Clarion, Comisar and Coast, both grads of DU’s Hotel, Restaurant and Tourism Management program, took a liking to The Meatball Shop during a visit to NYC in 2007. Cummings told The Clarion that though Comisar and Coast admired the success of NYC's "hipster foodie restaurant," they envisioned a larger dining audience. Eater recently chatted with Cummings about the meatball concept and why it's not "a hipster gastropub."
Cummings says he isn't drafting a menu that appeals to a certain cliental. Rather, he's trying to build the next successful chain concept. While Cummings writes menus at Row 14 that feature entrées priced between $15-$26, his meatball offerings will be below $8. "These days, two to three of our meals are fast-casual, and I'm trying to embrace that. Sure, I want to capitalize, but I want to make it a place I want to eat at. It will be chef-driven, but not driven by a chef. It will also be very value-driven, and everything will be thoughtful and approachable." He'll feature eight meatballs than can be eaten alone, over pasta or on sandwiches.
And in another effort to appeal to the masses, the menu will essentially be gluten-free. In response to skeptics, Cummings doesn't view the measure as extreme. "People have probably had gluten-free meatballs and not known it. There are a lot of places around the world that don't emphasize gluten. I don't think it will be a big deal once people try them." With a finished business plan, Cummings and his partners are just waiting to ink a deal in the right space somewhere in the DU hood, and they're also in the final stages of selecting a trademark name. If all goes well, Cummings would like to see 100 meatball shops scattered across the country in 10 years.