Henry at Life Hotel, the chef JJ Johnson’s pan-African restaurant in Midtown Manhattan, has closed, its parent company, Craveable Hospitality Group, said Thursday.
The restaurant, which opened in late 2017 in the lobby of the hotel at 19 West 31st Street, had been under the control of Mr. Johnson since last August. Before that, the restaurant seemed to be teetering on the brink of failure. Mr. Johnson’s ascension to the role of partner and head chef was widely considered to have saved the establishment.
Reached by text, Mr. Johnson would not comment on the closing, and referred questions to Craveable.
His publicist, Myescha Joell, said in an email that the restaurant “has concluded their collaboration at Life Hotel in New York City. We would like to thank all who visited for their support and patronage over the past year.” Ms. Joell confirmed that Mr. Johnson’s basement bar, Gibson & Luce, had also closed. The closing of the restaurant and bar was first reported Thursday by Eater.
Mr. Johnson came to Henry from the Cecil and Minton’s in Harlem, two sister restaurants where he worked under Alexander Smalls, a former opera singer turned consulting chef. At the Cecil, which has since closed, he also cooked pan-African food in a hotel lobby; at Minton’s, a historic jazz supper club where stars like Miles Davis, Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie cut their teeth, he served haute-soul food.
“My education was French food and now my eyes have opened up to other places in the world,” Mr. Johnson said in a recent interview for a Times article on 16 influential black chefs. “Rice in culinary school is a dish that you season with thyme and bay, cook in chicken stock and shallots.”
Continuing his push into the cooking of Africa and its diaspora, Mr. Johnson channeled his interest in rice into another Harlem restaurant, FieldTrip. The fast-casual spot, which opened July 10, offers bowls with grains from around the world, focusing primarily on rice, which Mr. Johnson recently called “the granddaddy grain of the world.”