His latest restaurant is still months away from serving its first yogurt-brined roast chicken. But restaurateur Todd Gray says he’s got private events reserved at Israeli-inspired Manna — and this is before construction has been completed on the open-air “biblical garden” and a multimedia-friendly event space — weeks ahead of its official debut.
“Nine thousand people booked the first two weeks into November,” Gray tells Eater about the “insane, out-of-control” schedule that’s unfolding in the run up to the grand opening of the controversial religious attraction on Friday, November 17 .
The award-winning chef and co-founder of Equinox Restaurant is well qualified for the job: he’s hosted politicos and dignitaries countless times at his flagship restaurant; developed a popular vegan brunch — which has since carried over to Equinox — at the now-defunct Corcoran Gallery of Art; spent nearly two weeks in Israel this past March researching the culinary techniques and traditional flavors indigenous to the region (stay tuned for additional details about Manna’s menu); and just wrapped up a summer-long catering operation on the Delaware shore.
Still, there’s a lot of work to do.
The new venture actually calls for two restaurants: cafeteria-style Manna, and grab-and-go coffee shop Milk and Honey Cafe.
Manna, which is located on the top floor of the still-evolving museum, is divided into three parts. The main dining room is projected to welcome roughly 166 patrons at a time. The adjoining biblical garden — a work in progress projected to feature decorative waterfalls and fresh herbs — is slated to accommodate approximately four dozen customers during seated arrangements, while nearly 100 can mix and mingle at standing room-only affairs.
The members’ lounge, as Gray calls it, is a semi-private dining space off to one side of the restaurant. Gray envisions blocking it off for meetings and private receptions, but is also considering using it for potential pre-theater dining (more on that in a moment).
Most consumers, however, are expected to flow through an ordering line where customers can choose from a selection of seasonally inspired soups, cooked-to-order flatbreads, custom grain and salad bowls, pre-packaged sides, and specialty desserts. Gray says the plan is to keep things moving as swiftly as possible without compromising on quality ingredients (think: locally sourced everything) and well thought out preparations.
The current goal is to have Manna going full steam during the day (the museum is scheduled to open at 10 a.m. seven days a week) and then possibly switch things up in the evening with more traditional dinner service. Gray is looking into serving entree-style offerings as part of a pre-theater program for visitors attending the various screenings and evening events put on by the Museum. Milk and Honey Cafe, which is located just above the main entrance, would serve coffee, snacks, and sandwiches continuously from open to close (tentative schedule is 10 a.m. to 7 p.m., Monday through Saturday, and from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday).
Gray is also ironing out brunch options. The ideal: Serving meals inside the glass-enclosed atrium leading into Manna.
As for the food itself, Gray is excited about showing off all that he learned while overseas.
“You want to do all the authentic things that you can,” he tells Eater.