Studio Gaia’s Ilan Waisbrod wants to shake up the dingy world of New York delis. “There’s absolutely no reason why there are thousands of them in the city—and each one looks crappier than the next,” he says. “What’s the idea? Why do delis allow themselves to be so ugly?”
With Dishes, a recent project in Manhattan, Studio Gaia aims to give that ubiquitous outpost the deluxe treatment. Waisbrod has created what he calls a “boutique” deli, featuring white Corian countertops, floating islands filled with food, and walls made of a custom-molded plastic done in convex and concave circles.
The 3,500-square-foot space is both sleek and efficient. On a recent afternoon visitors moved fluidly from station to station, as the deli easily accommodated a mix of takeout and eat-in clients. “We wanted to make sure the space functioned well,” Waisbrod says, “and then we made it look modern.”
Studio Gaia has shown a real knack for reinvigorating old concepts and making them appealing to a new generation. Their 1996 design for Republic, a now classic noodle restaurant, maximized the seating capacity there by reintroducing jaded New Yorkers to the idea of communal dining. At Cafeteria, completed in 1999, they created a nightclub environment for what was a Greek diner. The firm’s work for the W hotels in Seoul and Mexico City boosted the aesthetic quotient of the chain’s international outposts.
What makes Dishes different than most delis is the attention paid to the food. According to owner Moshe Mallul, the menu changes daily; his wife, Maggie Talisman, serves as executive chef. “The design reflects exactly what we do,” he says. Offering everything from espresso and pastries to sandwiches and soups, Dishes’ elegant touches help convey that this isn’t your typical quick-service eatery. “We were looking for a vision that reflected 2025, not 2000.”
Calling Dishes a boutique deli may sound like a public-relations spin, but the idea seems to have tapped into a latent desire in the marketplace. Since its opening, Studio Gaia has received several requests from owners looking to update their delis, and a second Dishes will open on Park Avenue before the end of the year.