Can Caffe Boa Survive Without Its Celeb Chef?

It was big news the other day when chef Payton Curry -- one of the Valley's better known culinary rock stars, who even has groupies -- announced his departure from Caffe Boa/Boa Bistro. It got a lot of people gabbing about how well Boa would fare in his wake.

Can the place survive without its celeb chef?

So far, so good, according to owner Jay Wisniewski, who says "business is rockin' right now."

It turns out, Curry left his post in good hands. Sous chefs Matt Smith and Nick Sheley have "been under his wing for three years," Wisniewski says, coming to Caffe Boa from Digestif. Now, they'll be running the show.

A press release from Caffe Boa pimped "immediate changes to the menu, including a new 'classics' section featuring Caffe Boa's all-time most popular items (including Shrimp Adriatico, Voodoo Penne, Heirloom tomato Bruschetta, Washington Mussels." It came across like the restaurant was reverting to some older version of itself, from the pre-Curry era.

But it turns out that those dishes have been on the menu all along. Wisniewski says it's just "more traditional-sounding," and that the restaurant is just emphasizing Italian cuisine more than before. He says he loved Curry's cooking, but admitted that Curry did bring more California cuisine to the menu. (Here are the new menus:  Caffe Boa lunch menu.docx  Caffe Boa dinner menu.docx)

When Curry first came on board, the celeb chef thing sort of backfired. "Initially people were freaked out. He was an easy target for people to knock down," Wisniewski says. "It's human nature."

Is this a lesson that change isn't always good?

Not really. Although Boa lost a little business at first, after several months (and surviving the summer) the restaurant ultimately built a bigger base of regulars. And even though people complained about prices being higher as a result of Curry's starpower, Wisniewski says he looked back at old menus and saw that prices had actually gone down under Curry's leadership.

Now, under Smith and Sheley, things won't be drastically different than before -- they'll still be making homemade charcuterie and the like, which they've done since the Digestif days -- although there will be more pastas and some old faves such as lasagna and osso bucco.

And who knows? Maybe the two young chefs are the next generation of rock stars. I suspect Curry wouldn't have it any other way.

KEEP PHOENIX NEW TIMES FREE... Since we started Phoenix New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Phoenix, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Michele Laudig
Contact: Michele Laudig