Ahoy there, cheese lovers! A new family-owned Georgian fusion restaurant, Cheeseboat is readying for opening on 9th Avenue.
Co-owners and mother-sibling trio Kate, Shako and Maria Davitashvili will bring the best of traditional Georgian cuisine — including Adjarian Khachapuri, the signature Georgian cheese cauldron made of melted fromage, eggs, and butter enveloped in freshly baked bread — to Hell’s Kitchen following their successful first location opened in Williamsburg in 2016. The neighborhood is familiar to the family, who first moved to the West Side after relocating from Georgia.
“My sister and I moved to New York to get a western education,” said Shako Davitashvili, who studied at Pace University. “We lived on 48th and 10th for a very, very long time in a fifth-floor walk up. The stairs were so steep, it felt more like a 10th floor walkup!”
Shako fell in love with the area, and became a regular at many Hell’s Kitchen landmarks: “I used to go to Gossip all the time, that was my go-to bar,” he said. “I love the area, it’s an awesome, awesome place.” After several auspicious years introducing Brooklyn to Georgian fare, it seemed that the next logical move would be to return to his old stomping grounds. “We wanted to open here because of our personal connection to this neighborhood — we could have expanded anywhere in Manhattan but specifically chose this area because of the neighborhood’s cultural heart,” he said.
There’s even a little piece of the neighborhood built directly into the centerpiece of the space — a communal, 20-person table (perfect for large groups of cheese lovers) designed by artist Jeremy Morrow and constructed with reclaimed wood from several New York buildings, including one in Hell’s Kitchen.
While the traditional cheeseboat will make the jump to the eatery’s Hell’s Kitchen menu, Shako explained that their dishes — developed and reworked by his mother Kate (crowned “Mama Cheeseboat” by her regulars) from her own Georgian recipes — frequently feature new twists on traditional classics like soup dumplings, pork ribs, borscht and of course, cheeseboats. “It’s a mix of traditional dishes, variations on traditional dishes, and some fusion of the two, which we thought would be a good fit for the neighborhood,” said Shako, who heads up operations while sister Maria manages the wine and beverage program.
“Georgia is known as the ‘cradle of wine’ and was one of the first countries in the world to start making wine,” said Shako, who added that they carefully curate a beverage program with varietals local to the Eastern European nation. “We have the utmost respect for and want to spread Georgian culture here in the US,” he said. “We have a deep selection of amber wines, clay pot wines —” (a Georgian method of natural winemaking in which fermented grapes are buried in large clay vessels called “Qvevri” underground), “ — and we carry a rotating collection of some of the more popular brands and less well-known ones. Maria makes sure that we diversify our offering so that neighbors here will be able to enjoy different Georgian wines every time they visit.”
Guest feedback and a willingness to adjust the menu accordingly is a huge priority to the family: “We want to provide such a high-quality food and drink for guests that if someone were to visit the restaurant every day, we are able to provide them with what feels like a new experience every time,” said Shako.
In addition to evolving through guest feedback, the team at Cheeseboat honors the traditions of the Hell’s Kitchen culinary establishments that came before them. “Uncle Nick’s, which owned the space that we’re taking over, was here for 30 years. I visited many, many times before they closed. I have the utmost respect for those kind of establishments that withstand time — 30 years in restaurant time is basically forever,” Shako said, adding that he was sad at the loss of Uncle Nick’s Greek Cuisine and so many other Hell’s Kitchen restaurants in the pandemic.
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He’s already reached out and fostered relationships with the other 9th Avenue businesses. “We’ve talked with many other local business owners throughout the opening and liquor license process, and they’ve been awesome and everyone has been so friendly,” said Shako. They also gathered to commiserate when 9th Avenue’s outdoor dining was unceremoniously shut down by the city. “Luckily we have a back patio in our space, but it was really heartbreaking to see,” he added.
Hell’s Kitchen’s residents have been just as eager for the nascent eatery to open: “The neighborhood has been a hundred percent receptive,” Shako said, adding that the family hopes to establish long-term roots with the West Side community. “We don’t compromise on quality, ever, but we do also try to make the menu budget-friendly as well. It’s our priority to make good, organic, fresh food accessible to as many people as possible.”
Shako and the team are looking forward to welcoming in a new wave of New Yorkers to the culture of their homeland — and are hoping to raise the profile of Georgian cuisine citywide. “In Williamsburg, there are people who associate Georgian food specifically with our restaurant,” he said. “Georgian food is getting more famous by the day, and we can’t wait to give more people the chance to enjoy great organic food and drink awesome Georgian wine — nobody loses in that transaction.”