After see-sawing from New York to Charleston and back to New York again, celebrated chef Damon Wise had decide to move to Atlanta. And that’s where he plans to stay for a while. “I’m tired of moving around,” he said. “I’m ready to settled down and live.”
On the phone from Sauvage, one of the two Brooklyn restaurants Wise has been running since December 2016 (the other is the beloved oyster and cocktail house Maison Premiere), Wise said that he starts work this Monday, May 8, as the culinary director for all of Linton and Gina Hopkins’ restaurants. It’s a new role for Resurgens Hospitality Group.
“This is my last day here in New York, and I’m really excited to get down there,” he said. He and his partner, Laura, will travel south with their 70-pound dog and a bunch of suitcases this weekend. The rest of their belongings have remained in storage in Charleston during their past five months in Brooklyn. “I have mega props for New York. The food scene is incredible and exciting and people constantly have great ideas. But it’s too expensive to live here.”
Wise said things “changed dramatically” during the three years he spent opening two restaurants in Charleston. When he was a cook in New York before—Wise was the corporate executive-chef for Tom Colicchio’s Crafted Hospitality and later opened Lafayette with Andrew Carmellini—he could still afford to pay his rent. “I don’t know how line cooks do it now,” he said. “One of my line cooks is married, and another cook that works there is living with them because they can’t afford it otherwise.”
Florida-born Shane McBride, now the chef at New York’s Cherche Midi, introduced Wise to Linton Hopkins, and the two saw eye-to-eye from the beginning.
“I think he’s one of the great American chefs,” said Hopkins. “To have him on the team is like having someone who’s better than you.” Wise will essentially be Hopkins’ right hand, helping the company grow, seeing ideas through, improving sourcing, and overall breathing a little fresh air into the company. “The bottom line is, I need allies,” said Hopkins. “There’s no way to do it all yourself.”
Most important to both Hopkins and Wise is team building. “Restaurants are very hard to staff these days,” said Wise. “We need to build a strong culture and teach people how to do things well.” Hopkins noted Wise’s experience with team training and creating a support system. “Plus, a handful of amazing [Atlanta] chefs in their own right have trained under Damon, including Jason Paolini, Adam Evans, and Kevin Maxey.”
To begin, Wise’s primary focus will be on their Braves’ stadium steakhouse, C. Ellet’s, set to open in June. “I’m a real restaurant opening junkie,” says Wise. C. Ellet’s will be his eighteenth. “Getting a team together, working it . . . that sound of a well-operating restaurant is incredible.”
Hopkins said Wise is an asset not only for his restaurant group, but also for the city—even the region. “This is huge for the South.”