Small Business Survivors | Shaun Hergatt opens Vestry in SoHo amid COVID-19 pandemic, earns Michelin star

vestry lead
Photos courtesy of Vestry

While many New York City establishments sadly went out of business amid the pandemic, Chef Shaun Hergatt did the opposite and opened a new restaurant in SoHo.

The renowned chef opened Vestry, located at 246 Spring Street, in October 2020. Initially, the plan was to open in April 2020, but the pandemic put a pin in those plans.

“We were shooting for April, the month after the pandemic. That’s when it was sort of concluded that [the COVID-19 pandemic] was going to be a real thing,” said Hergatt. “There was a lot of skepticism in December and January/February, so no one really knew what was going on.”

Regardless, when New York City started to allow dining in restaurants again, though initially only outdoor, Hergatt pulled the trigger and launched Vestry. The goal for the restaurant was to cook raw and refined food that anyone could enjoy and to be very SoHo-centric in its design and menu. 

Vestry’s opening earned the attention of the New York Times, who ran a piece on the eatery, as well as a few other publications. Hergatt was initially surprised at the response that Vestry got in the beginning.

Big Eye Tuna at Vestry(Photo courtesy of Vestry)

“I was kind of very concerned with that when we first opened, it was only outside dining, and that was the kicker that this could be a shakey scenario. To be honest, I was actually happy that we got some decent flow,” said Hergatt. “We saw quite an influx of people coming to check it out, congratulate us on opening a restaurant. I knew there was a fair amount of risk, but I felt deep down inside that the future was only going get better.”

Over the months, there was a lot of trial and error because Vestry had to adapt to a new way of running the restaurant. Hergatt noted that the menu and decor in the outdoor seating boxes had to change because the food would either get cold or candles would blow out from the wind. Hergatt kept the team small, with five people on the floor, three in the kitchen and one on dishes, with Hergatt himself jumping in where he was needed to help keep the restaurant going. 

Vestry initially had around 50-60 covers a night, which quickly grew to between 90-110 covers by the end of 2020. Hergatt tried out delivery and third-party apps for delivery and pick-up, but they never really took off, so once the onsite dining took off Hergatt turned those off.

“On Valentine’s Day, we did 120 covers. After that, I was like this is going to sail. There wasn’t a day where I wasn’t in that kitchen and the res working, wondering what the future could be because nobody, especially me, would ever think that all that stuff would happen in a short period of time, and all you can do is take information and react,” said Hergatt.

Homemade Cheesecake at Vestry.(Photo courtesy of Vestry)

In the short amount of time that it has been open, Vestry was able to snag a Michelin star. However, for Hergatt, the recognition is nice, but what he really cares about is the comfort of his clientele.

“We were extremely fortunate and lucky that we were awarded a Michelin star within 6 and a half months of opening. I was blown away and surprised because I didn’t even think about any of that stuff because all we were trying to do was take in as many people as we can in this up and down period,” said Hergatt. “After we started building our numbers and seeing potential, it has just been a sort of incline of covers — on weekends we do up to 200, and maybe 140-150 during the week. I’m still there every week, talking to my clients and caring about my regulars, making sure I change the menu. I always have this attitude of constant improvement. I think that’s the one way we’ve kept a great deal of retention and a lot of interest with the people who are really great and fans and have followed us and me for all these years.”

Hergatt highly credits his team for keeping Vestry afloat throughout the months of uncertainty.

“I have thanked them many times for showing great tenacity. They all held in there, especially the management team. There were days when the GM and the wine director were making drinks because the bartender didn’t turn up, or one of the cooks or sous chef is washing dishes because the dishwasher was late. It was such a small team, I’m there cooking with the guys trying to get it to a point where I feel that it needs to be on a level of quality,” said Hergatt. “You have to understand the chaos that it was on the interior, but obviously, it’s all about making sure that there’s a seamless experience that the clients have and I really credit that to them. They really stuck in there and are solid people. They did the hard ask, you have to give them a thumbs up for that because I was there, it was not easy.”

Vestry recently snagged a cover on the esteemed food magazine Bon Appétit’s restaurant issue, earning the restaurant more praise. As Vestry continues to grow, Hergatt hopes to tighten up his team more, refine the Vestry service and create more positive experiences for the customers that come to dine.

“I feel like instilling a much stronger and much more positive culture about how we’re going to move out of the pandemic because it won’t last forever. COVID is going to be a part of our lives, but I really want to focus on making a positive future for the team and grow this into something the becomes a place where everyone wants to come at all times,” said Hergatt. 

For more information, visit vestrynyc.com.