It's a good thing no one got too attached to the Atlantic Ocean Club, Delray Beach's farm-to-table restaurant that set sail for good last weekend. The much-hyped restaurant's stay on the avenue was a brief one. It lasted just four months total.
Now set to take its place: The Pop Up, an Italian-themed restaurant that, oddly enough, also has an expiration date of four months.
But unlike AOC, the Pop Up's September expiration is planned. Opening in just a few weeks, the Pop Up will be helmed by longtime SoFla chef Glen Manfra and will feature affordable Italian cuisine aimed at the local, summer diner (a rarer bird than the crested ibis).
The whole mix-up raises some big questions. Namely, how can Manfra swing a four-month stint in a finished restaurant during the low point of the season? And how can he afford to do it without the promise of business in the fall?
I spoke to the 52-year-old Manfra, who recently returned from cheffing for nine months on the Caribbean island of Anguilla. When I called, the chef
was busy working on the conversion but spoke slowly and in a thick New
York accent when I asked him how the Pop Up came to be.
was in the right place at the right time," says Manfra. "I had the
opportunity to take over a restaurant for no money and make something
out of it."
That "no money" arrangement is an interesting story. And it begins months before the opening of Atlantic Ocean Club.
[AOC] was even built, [owner Larry Lipnick] had my name in mind," says
Manfra, with just a smidge of self-assured swagger. Manfra says he was
offered the job of executive chef at the restaurant, which was then
under construction. But due to a planned business trip that was going
to take Manfra away from South Florida for two months, Lipnick decided
to give the job to erstwhile Taste chef Jamie DeRosa. That relationship
ended in February when DeRosa split from Atlantic Ocean Club. Just
three months later, the restaurant closed for good.
Manfra says Lipnick got in touch with him and asked if he'd like to
take over the space for the summer. The price was right (read: free),
so Manfra jumped at the opportunity.
"My whole career,
I've opened places for other people," he says. "My plan is to do this
for myself now."
list of involvements is pretty long indeed. The chef worked at the
first Bice on Long Island in the mid-'80s and first came to Florida
when he was tapped to open the chain's West Palm Beach location in
1989. Following that, a partnership with Revlon Cosmetics' Ron Perelman gave birth to a series of Palm Beach
eateries: Amici, Galaxy Grill,
and Lido Mare. Most recently, Manfra worked with restaurateur David
Manero on Sopra (in 2004) and then Vic & Angelo's in Palm Beach Gardens. He's currently
listed as "culinary director" on Vic & Angelo's website.
According to Manfra, he also "completely reworked the menu" prior to Vic & Angelo's Delray Beach launch and took part in a series of business
trips to California with Manero while he was researching menus for the
"I put David Manero on the map," says Manfra boldly.
For his part, Manero denies that Manfra had such a large involvement in his restaurants.
Manfra never worked at the Office," said Manero via email. "He last
worked at our North Palm Beach V&A and was released. I have nothing
to do with him. He never created a menu for me."
Regardless of their prior relationship, Manfra's Pop Up and
Manero's Vic & Angelo's will be direct competitors once the
restaurant opens later this month. Diners can expect a small,
dinner-only menu that will
change daily, geared primarily toward local summer
produce, fresh seafood, and pasta. According to Manfra, prices will
stay reasonable, at under $24, with homemade pastas in the $14 to $19
range as well. That price point, says Manfra, jibes with his vision for
"You've got to be foolish
to open a restaurant in the middle of summertime," Manfra admits. "So I need to price
myself to get people to come in and have a good taste, come here and
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eat a few times a week without hurting themselves in the pocketbook and
come in during the summer months. If everything works out, hopefully I can turn it into something where I can
keep my time busy until I'm 60 years old. There's a hotel on Anguilla I'd love to buy someday."
At four months a pop, Manfra may have to plan a few more Pop Ups to get there.