Dez opens its doors for the first time on Thursday, but the owners of the new Middle Eastern spot already have their eyes on expansion.
The NoLIta eatery, at 227 Mulberry St., is the third fast-casual concept from Esquared, the hospitality group behind Italian eatery The Sosta and vegan chain By Chloe (which has a dozen locations and counting globally).
Partners Samantha Wasser and Eden Grinshpan — a Canadian-Israeli chef and host of Cooking Channel’s “Eden Eats” and Food Network’s “Top Chef Canada” — see Dez reaching a wide audience too.
“Eden has a ton of fans in Canada — they’re already asking for Dez and we’re not even open yet,” Wasser said in an interview before the restaurant’s launch. “You’re getting an amazing fun experience but at a reasonable price point and in a quick setting. The more that we can introduce people to Dez, the better.”
Grinshpan approached Esquared about opening her first restaurant two years ago. She was attracted to the fast-casual model for its accessibility.
“I’m not a big fan of fine dining,” she said. “Some of the best meals I’ve ever had in my life are 20 bucks or less.”
She points to the Washington Square Park food cart NY Dosas as a cheap eat favorite. (“It feels like you’re eating a dosa from South India — it’s really inexpensive and super authentic,” she said.)
At Dez, Grinshpan’s menu of meze, salads, bowls, flatbreads and pitas ranges from $3-$12 and is inspired by her travels in the Mediterranean and Middle East, including summers in Israel. For instance, the Seeds & Veg, with toasted seeds, tomato, sheep’s milk feta and herbs, is a take on a salad at her favorite restaurant in Jaffa, Israel.
The menu also pulls from her memories growing up in Canada; the jeweled saffron rice bowl with Baharat grilled chicken, pistachios, herbs and mint lemon yogurt is inspired by an Iranian family she knew in Toronto.
The space — which takes inspiration from Middle Eastern markets and Moroccan gardens and is decorated with desert icons like palms, cactuses and camels — is designed to transition from morning to night, Wasser said.
“It could really be a place you meet up with your friends for an actual meal, or go in between during the day,” she said.
This being an Esquared project, there is a big emphasis on the Dez brand, too, from merch like bucket hats, tie-dye shirts and snap bracelets to bottled harissa, dukkah and shakshuka sauce.
“I want people to really buy into the Dez lifestyle,” Wasser said. “It just promotes fun.”
Dez comes at a time when the city is rife with Middle Eastern and Mediterranean restaurants, from other fast-casual concepts like Taim and Cava Grill to more upscale experiences at Nur.
“I love Middle Eastern food — there’s so much happening in cooking right now,” Grinshpan said. “It was just calling me. I really needed to be a part of this and showcase what Middle Eastern food can really be.”