Samesa Calls 30 Rock Home
In a fate familiar to so many restaurants in New York City and other cities around the world last year, Eli and Max Sussman had to close their Williamsburg restaurant Samesa on September 27, 2020. But now, after several months, the brothers are opening Samesa’s second act—at 30 Rockefeller Plaza.
"This is what we always dreamed when we were talking about conceptualizing Samesa, when we were both at our old jobs and we were having late-night discussions about whether or not we would start something together,” says cofounder Eli Sussman. "It really feels like, five years in, this is our first coming-out party.”
There’s a large Middle Eastern population in Metro Detroit, where the brothers grew up, Eli says, and they grew up eating a lot of Middle Eastern food. And when they arrived in New York City, they paid special attention to one particular New York staple. "We really have always loved the Halal trucks,” Eli says, "not only for the food but also for the way that they are just kind of embedded in the fabric of culture and society in New York.”
Prior to venturing out on their own, the Sussmans worked as chefs at multiple New York City restaurants, and they have authored several cookbooks. The original Samesa—pronounced Sa-MEE-sa—opened as a fast-casual spot in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. "We really wanted to anchor the concept with chicken shawarma,” Eli says, "and then we built out Samesa around chicken shawarma by offering homemade dips and salads that would be spices and flavor profiles that would be recognizable but not traditional.”
The Rockefeller Center location will bring back that chicken shawarma, as well as the house-made seitan. "A lot of the flavors are going to remain the same,” Eli says. But new to the menu are the Kale Fattoush salad with Tahini Caesar dressing, as well as the Detroit Style Greek Salad. "That’s going on the menu because it is just my absolute favorite salad,” Eli says. "I think that it is perfect in every way, and it is served at pretty much every single Detroit kind of diner, Greek, Middle Eastern restaurant—they have it on the menu.” Samesa’s menu also features pita wraps, plates, and sides like Roasted Beet Dip and Avocado Hummus Dip.
Samesa joins a crowd of fast-casual options at Rockefeller Center like the recently opened FIELDTRIP and the salad staple Sweetgreen. The location won’t have seating initially, Eli says, so the restaurant is for now purely takeout and delivery. "For any fast-casual concept, Midtown is really like the mecca,” Eli says. "If you can make it in Midtown, if the workers of Midtown can embrace your concept, you’re clearly doing something right.”
Samesa also did a hefty food catering business in its old location, with Eli estimating that over 50 percent of the restaurant’s business came from catering in 2019, something he would like to continue in the new space. Eli says that they hope "to connect with offices and office managers and get Samesa in front of folks in Midtown, as well, for corporate lunches and for office meetings and happy hours.”
The "small, scrappy family-owned restaurant" (Eli’s words) also embraced the local design industry for the build-out of the physical Rockefeller Center space. Anna Polonsky of Polonsky & Friends collaborated with the restaurant on the overall design, selecting terracotta pendant lamps from SIN in Greenpoint and designing a custom arched door that was then fabricated by Seth Wachtell of BILT/DFI, also in Brooklyn. "It’s pretty subtle, but there’s a lot of these nice rounded arches that kind of marry the space together, something that we would never, ever have thought of or come up with,” Eli says. "So we really are just thrilled with these little kind of flourishes which changed the space and made it our own.”
Samesa’s community-minded thinking translated to another initiative at the Brooklyn location: the Friday Lunch Special. The restaurant’s Instagram explained in a post last August: “Today we’re bringing back the ‘Friday lunch special’—from 12-2 pay whatever you want for any single wrap sandwich. Pay zero, pay a lot, pay a little. Don’t care what your reasons are. What we do care about is everyone having access to a delicious sandwich during such a hard time.”
Eli says he would like to bring that idea back at the Rockefeller Center location. "We’d love to continue to bring those elements, those priorities that we had when we were in Williamsburg to any new location that we have. So we might not start it right away, but I do think that that was an important thing that we did, especially during Covid when a lot of people in hospitality lost their jobs and they were looking for just, like, a half an hour to kind of feel normal and turn their brain off and just enjoy a sandwich, and so I would love to do that again or something like that.”
The new Samesa officially opens on March 22 on the Rink Level of 30 Rockefeller Plaza. "The way that Rockefeller Center is being revitalized with a lot of new concepts that we love, with chefs that we really respect... . It just feels exciting to be a part of the new, the revitalized, the changing Rockefeller Center, and so having Samesa being part of that lineup is just an absolute dream come true. I mean, SNL is right upstairs, what more could I possibly ask for, you know?”
Samesa opens on Monday, March 22, at 30 Rockefeller Plaza.