The James Beard Foundation has announced its final round of nominees for this year’s awards, and Savannah’s new kid on the block, The Grey, made the cut.
Also on the list is Steven Satterfield, former Savannah resident and graduate of Windsor Forest High School, who was nominated — again — as Best Chef: Southeast for his restaurant Miller Union in Atlanta.
While The Grey had been on the list as a semifinalist for Best New Restaurant — alongside Cheryl and Griffith Day at Back in the Day Bakery, who were semifinalists for Outstanding Baker — it did not make the final list.
But The Grey did make the list for Best Restaurant Design or Renovation in North America for restaurants with 76 seats and over.
Known as the Oscars of the food world, the James Beard Awards are the highest honor for food and beverage professionals in America. The 2015 James Beard Awards gala will be held in Chicago on May 4.
Savannah has two James Beard Foundation Award winners: Elizabeth Terry, former owner and chef at her namesake restaurant, Elizabeth’s on 37th, won the award for Best American Chef: Southeast in 1995. Cynthia Hayes was honored with a leadership award in 2013 for her work with Southeastern African-American Farmers Organic Network.
The Grey opened only three months ago in the 1938 Art Deco former Greyhound bus terminal at 109 Martin Luther King, Jr. Blvd., with Chef Mashama Bailey and her Southern-inspired dishes.
Owner John Morisano spent more than two years and several million dollars restoring the former bus station into a unique showpiece, and he says he is “humbled that people are aware of us at that level of the industry.”
New York-based Parts and Labor Design, headed by designers Andrew Cohen and Jeremy Levitt, are credited with the design of The Grey.
Morisano says his intention was to maintain the original design aesthetics of the 1930s Greyhound Bus Station but to make the space functional. He wanted it to “look like is has been here always …”
He sees the design as a metaphor for a transportation hub.
“You feel like you stepped out of time or place and into some other place and time, so the experience is totally transportative. Effort went into every stick of furniture and light fixture … so it all made sense. No details were left untouched.”
The space at The Grey features a main dining room with a bar area for casual dining or for people who “just come for cocktails.” The room features elements such as gate numbers on the wall and glass partitions made from salvaged materials.
The old ticket booth was transformed into the new kitchen, and the outdoor area features smokers and grills and can host special functions.
Morisano says he’s become friends with the designers during the two years they spent transforming the restaurant into their shared vision.
“I had the vision for the space and what we were going to do with it, but I don’t have the vocabulary to articulate that,” he said. “When I sat down with them … they said ‘We totally get it.’”
While the early attention and accolades are great for the restaurant, Morisano admits they are more focused on growing and evolving.
“We are still trying to perfect our dinner service, open lunch service and get our outdoor service going,” he says.
The Grey, he says, is more than just a place to eat dinner.
“I think that by doing the preservation on 109 MLK, we weren’t trying to open another restaurant in Savannah, we were creating a space that was going to have a positive impact on MLK Boulevard, on this side of town and on the community in general where we have all these different focal points,” Morisano says.
What: The Grey
Where: 109 Martin Luther King, Jr. Blvd
Contact: 912-662-5999; www.thegreyrestaurant.com