The momentum of the Lower East Side’s revival, carried by entrepreneurs with the very same idiosyncrasy as the makeup of the neighborhood itself, has brought both denizens and creatives together from far and wide. Given the right place, the right time, and a foretelling vision, it’s these entrepreneurs who both flourish in the energy and feed back into it...a cycle that has given the locale, like many others, the attention it’s long deserved.
Meet Rupert Noffs and Matty Bennett, the young couple behind Broome Street’s The Lucky Bee. If that sounds familiar, it’s because the hot pink-spattered Pan-Asian eatery is the place to be for anyone with a penchant for food, music, and the welfare of New York City’s bees. We sat down with the two for an exclusive look at what goes on behind the scenes at everyone’s new favorite downtown haunt.
LA: How did you two originally meet?
Rupert Noffs: We met working on a P&O cruise ship in the UK. I has just finished at drama school and my singing teacher said someone on the ship had dropped out of the cast. I was 19. When I flew into London, we rehearsed the show for two weeks then drove up north on a big coach. The cruise director greeted us, and so did Matty. He was hired as the DJ & lighting/sound technician. Matty carried my bags all the way from the coach to my cabin. Obviously it was love at first sight.
When people ask what is it like being married and working together, I always tell them -- that's how we met. We worked together every day and night for 6 months on that ship. Matty has an extremely hard work ethic. I love that. He's so focused. I tend to daydream and think about other things - but Matty is always thinking in the moment. We're a good team.
LA: What led you two to NYC?
RN: Matty got offered a job at The Fat Radish as Sous Chef and I was working in fashion. I founded an Australian-made shoe label called Gideon. I had always wanted to move here after watching Home Alone and Big Business. My bedroom was covered in the covers of The New Yorker. I never read them, I just used to cut out the covers and stick them on my wall [laughs]. Now I obviously read them. It was in 2011, the perfect time to come over. I've met so many people who've said to me, "Rupert, if I could've moved to New York, I would have." That's so sad. I never want to live my life like that. No regrets. Ever! This city is my greatest inspiration.
LA: What’s it like to run a restaurant as a couple?
RN: We met working together, so it's totally normal. We have a great synchronicity. I know when to not go into the kitchen. When to say nothing. When Matty's in that mode. No one should go near him. He's the same with me. All it takes it one look...we each other's wingman. We have a great meeting at the end of the night. Then we Netflix ‘n chill!
LA: Tell us what steered you in the direction of Southeast Asian.
RN: Matty worked at Australia's leading Thai restaurant called Longrain in Sydney. Within two weeks of working there he became this master of Asian food. It totally consumed him. Hence, I never really saw him. He trained in cooking school for 3 years but when he worked at Longrain that was it. He was quickly promoted to Sous Chef after a few months, then Head Chef just before we left for NYC. We have travelled throughout South East Asia many times. Cambodia is our spiritual home. Siem Reap is beyond words. The culture, the people, the food. Bangkok is just so much fun. It's similar to New York, actually. There are these beautiful spots, then it can get really dirty, which we love. Eating on the streets with the locals is heaven for us. A bowl of noodles and a Chang beer. It's the best. Smelling the smoke from grills and sweating from chilis. The burning incense coming from the temples, the Buddhist monks meditating and praying. What's not to love? When we came back from Asia, when immediately booked for the next year, we decided that we'd open a Asian restaurant. The flavors -- sweet, salty, sour, spice...it’s just happiness on a plate.
LA: Matty, in what ways has your experience in the kitchen at The Fat Radish influenced what you do here?
Matty Bennett: I created some great relationships with the local farmers upstate through the Union Square Farmers’ Market -- whom I visit most days. That was super important for me to have access to local produce.
LA: The aesthetic of this place is so vibrant with so many strong elements, yet none seem to clash. Who’s primarily responsible for design?
RN: That would be me, Rupert [laughs]. I come from a fashion and design background, so that was fun for me to turn that into interior design. I just put a big vision board together and worked with an architect because I suck at numbers. I thought about all of my favourite restaurants and hotels. I love The Beverly Hills Hotel -- that classic pink deco design. The Royal Hawaiian Hotel -- pink stucco! What's not to love? Pink is so calming too. I wanted lots of plants. Plants give us life and a space can look so clinical without any greenery. So all of these elements came together when I saw them on my vision board. Black and white stripes for the bar, also very classic. It's never dated. I also wanted a space that was different from anything else in Lower East Side. I'm so over Edison light bulbs and that wood barn look. There's no thought there. It's just cookie cutter. I love seeing people walk past the restaurant and stare and take photos of the pink neon signs. Mission accomplished!
LA: What inspired the name?
RN: Bees are lucky to lift off the ground. They have fat little bodies and tiny wings. We're also lucky to have them. They pollinate our food. They're dying rapidly though, which is really scary. We wanted to raise money for the New York Beekeepers Association through our cocktail program. We call them Karma Cocktails.
LA: This one’s for both of you: what’s your favorite dish on the menu currently?
RN/MB: I'm obsessed with the Coconut Braised Beef Shin (Rupert). The Green Curry of Market Vegetables is a must have (Matty).
LA: What about drinks?
RN: I'm a vodka guy, so it's the Honey Bee My Baby for me with matcha, melon, and bee pollen. Matty always orders The Keeping of Bees is Like The Direction of Sunbeams. It's super spicy with tequila, Thai basil and Thai chili-infused honey. Our take on a spicy margarita.
LA: We know that from opening until just recently, the kitchen had no gas. Now that it’s been turned on and your horizons have broadened from just butane and induction, what are some of the major changes we’ll be seeing?
RN: A full new summer menu with dishes that are grilled, baked and cooked in our wok! We added grilled shrimp, seared tuna, fried fish...we're actually a working kitchen now. Go figure!
LA: Any future projects in store?
RN: We're looking at opening a bar and another restaurant within 16 months. We are packed every night and people keeping asking about the next spot, which is cool. I also want to open in LA so I can spend some time at The Beverly Hills Hotel!
This article has been edited for clarity. For menu picks or to secure a reservation, please contact your Attaché. Matty and Rupert will be happy to see you.
Images courtesy of Céline Bossart