Marigold Kitchen reopens tonight with a new owner, a new chef and a new menu, after the Cook-Solomonov team decided to sell earlier this summer and focus on their upcoming restaurant, Percy Street Barbecue. Robert Halpern, the new owner, kept the name. It made us wonder, when there’s not only a switch in ownership, but a switch in chef and concept, is it a good idea to hang on to the previous name? What kind of bonuses - and what kind of baggage - does a name bring along with it? In addition to Halpern, we asked two other restaurant owners who bought existing restaurants and changed everything but the name, even if its reputation was iffy, and here’s how they responded.
Why did you keep the name?
Rob Halpern, new chef-owner Marigold Kitchen
We had always been impressed with the restaurant under Steve Cook and Michael Solomonov - their reputation was so strong, it was in our best interest to keep the name. We probably would have changed it if they hadn’t done such a phenomenal job. We looked at other places and had our own name, Alchemy, but when this came up, we decided to keep it. Plus, Marigold has been going strong here for over 70 years, I didn’t want to be the guy that changed it!
Michele DiPietro, co-owner of Meritage
It’s a complicated question. It was our first restaurant and it was [financially] an easier fit to swing into a place that was already existing. I liked the name - weren’t even concerned about it, but a lot goes into it, more than we thought. I had no idea there were negative thoughts about Meritage. I dined at the restaurant a couple of times before we bought it - I only heard positive things and knew it had gotten three bells from Craig LaBan. We were confused why [the previous owners] were selling it - once we got in there, we realized it was not accepted by the neighbors and [the previous owners] had done some negative things. If we did it over again - there’s still a stigma from the name and what they had done, but now there’s nothing left from previous owners except from the name. At this point, we’ve had the restaurant for three years and they were only here a year and a half. At this point it didn’t make sense to change the name - we’d really be moving back.
Robert Reilly, owner of Salt & Pepper
What led me to keep the name? It was complete ignorance. I liked the name, as silly as it sounds. I didn’t do any research. [Ed. Note: the previous incarnation of Salt & Pepper got pounded by reviewers]. It was awful, but it was only an uphill battle for two or three months - it’s such a neighborhood restaurant and people talked and they knew we were new. It was only open for seven months and hardly anyone had been there anyway.