Sat. Dec 5th, 2020

For owners Matthew and Aliza Byrne, the pandemic has prompted a pivot amid plans to expand to north county.

Usually this time of the year, Chef Matthew Byrne is whipping up summer specials like many restaurants catering to a partly seasonal clientele. But given the economic impact of coronavirus restrictions on the restaurant and its employees, including some who were furloughed, this was not a summer-deal type of off-season at Kitchen. This is a reinvention type of off-season.

At the stylish West Palm Beach restaurant Byrne owns with his wife, Aliza Byrne, the pivot means a greater focus on private events.

“People are still having these life moments. People are still having birthdays and anniversaries and engagement parties. But they want to be safe,” says Aliza, who manages the restaurant that’s located just east of South Dixie Highway at Belvedere Road.

She has booked a series of intimate “milestone” celebrations in their smartly set “Prep Kitchen” space, which serves as a grab-and-go lunch spot as well as a spillover seating area at dinner. It’s a space that seems made to order for these pandemic days when micro-weddings are replacing more elaborate affairs and when customers are seeking venues offering safe, turnkey service in an intimate setting.

“Being able to host small, intimate gatherings in Prep Kitchen responsibly has been a good thing,” says Aliza. And by “gatherings” she doesn’t mean all-out parties. Recently, she declined a request to bring in a deejay for a private event.

The focus on small, private events is one of two parallel storylines playing out at the Byrnes’ restaurant, which has hosted a steady stream of locals and visiting VIPs since it opened in October 2013. Both storylines carry echoes of restaurant life in a pandemic.

In one of them, the Byrnes glance ahead to the new Kitchen outpost they plan to open in northwestern Palm Beach Gardens later this year. In the other, they take stock of their existing restaurant, its emptier rooms and its potential — hence the pivot.

With plans to open Kitchen at the newish suburban Alton Town Center plaza now delayed until at least mid-October, the husband-and-wife restaurant owners, who had hoped to open the place last month, are expanding the uses for their original restaurant’s multiple dining spaces.

With the state’s current restrictions allowing just 50 percent capacity in restaurant dining rooms, the cozy dining rooms at Kitchen often see just one or two tables of diners at a time. Sometimes that’s by request of the customer, says Aliza. She offers the example of two regular customers who venture out of stay-at-home life to dine at the restaurant once a week.

“They come in and sit in a pretty empty dining room,” she says. “They like to feel they have the space all to themselves. Our weird, quirky spaces have worked well.”

The larger Prep Kitchen space can accommodate up to 35 guests, says Aliza. For private gatherings in that room, the restaurant charges a $500 room fee and $75 per person for a three-course menu, she says. Butler-passed bites costs an additional $15 per person.

“The beauty of Prep Kitchen is you don’t have to do anything. Just show up,” she says.

Meanwhile, plans for the upcoming Kitchen at Alton also include a private dining space. Like the West Palm location, the new outpost will offer Matthew Byrne’s menu of modernized comfort classics, a sophisticated black-and-white decor and valet parking.

Unlike the West Palm location, Kitchen North will have a full bar and happy hour.

The new restaurant will mean a return to north county for Matthew Byrne, who formerly worked as private chef for golf star Tiger Woods. But there’s considerable work to be done before that return happens.

“Right now, we’re building a restaurant. The drywall isn’t even up yet. We’re just taking it day by day,” says Aliza Byrne. “We’re staying true, adapting but staying true.”

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