Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Good Eats

Were there a Midas of haute cuisine in Saratoga Springs, it would probably be Max London, the prodigy chef and heir-apparent to the nationally-renowned Mrs. London’s Bakery on Broadway. Since first entering the Spa City’s restaurant business in 1999, the young chef quickly grew a reputation for turning whatever dish he touches into culinary gold.

And after a prolonged hiatus from professionally cooking, it appears as though he’ll be back on the restaurant scene shortly as the owner-chef of what is sure to be a hotspot eatery at the former storeroom of Mabou on Broadway.

The city council has stepped in to afford London a $75,000 economic development loan to help get his business off the ground. While it might sound like a risky endeavor for the city to finance a restaurant in downtown that’s already supersaturated with them –studies show something like one in three fail within the first three years of opening –funding in London is a sound investment in both small community business and the city’s culinary arts.

In just a short time, London –the son of longtime business owners Michael and Wendy London –hit the bustling downtown scene at the former Eartha’s Restaurant quickly carved out a name as one of the city’s elite epicureans. The small Court Street bistro’s hearty reputation for high-quality cuisine became synonymous with the hard toil of London, who fortified his title as head chef shortly before reaching the legal drinking age.

Given his lineage, London’s reputation preceded his ability. But for every bit of hype that might have been heaped on the young chef’s shoulders, he fired back with dishes that both caught the eye, dazzled the taste buds and left diners with a satiated feeling few are accustomed to in this trans-fat fast-eating culture.

Then after three seasons, he disappeared from the scene; less than a year later, so did Eartha’s.

Although London never spoke candidly about his plans in the press, it was widely known among restaurant circles that he had every intention of opening a tapas bar on Saratoga’s main drag. But the proper financing always seemed to elude London, who has wrangled for nearly four years with gathering enough scratch to make a go at his dream.

Hopefully, the infusion of funding will help pluck London out of culinary hibernation. His business would inevitably raising the bar for downtown’s eateries and provide a necessary replacement for the recent dissolution of the popular 43 Phila Bistro in November.

London's ability is a known quality, as is his parents’ business savvy. And when he finally brings his extraordinary talent out into the restaurant business, food lovers across the Capital Region will be in for a treat. Good luck, Max. Downtown starves for a chef of your talent.


Blogger Horatio Alger said...

To some extent, I agree. The Daily Gazette Friday printed a good piece about some past economic development loans given out, some of which tanked miserably and ended up costing the city. Small businesses are difficult to finance for the simple reason that so many of them don’t make it off the ground. And when one crashes, very seldom do their owners have a pot to piss in afterwards, so there’s really no way to get the money back.

But in the case of Saratoga Springs, a city with a main street that thrives on quirky small businesses, I’d argue the funding is necessary. I’d also add the caveat that it should only be given to prospective business owners that have a good history with the city and a successful plan in place to open up shop.

In this case, the Londons are a known and revered part of the business community, and one which actually draws people to the downtown. When Max was working downtown, he quickly became known as one of the best in the business. So as long as he can keep the accounting straight, I’ve got little doubt that he’ll have the money back to the city.

And when the likes of multi-million dollar developers routinely fleecing the city through PILOT programs, I’ve got no problem with the little guy –or given Max’s stature, the big guy –getting a bit of assistance.

8:08 AM  

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