Hartel has been running the place solo since co-chef Corey Griffith left a while back, and she’s ready to recruit some help in the front of the house.
“I’ve taken on the restaurant by myself for three years, and I realized I need a guy around here who can do things out here [front of the house] better than I can,” she said with a laugh. “The whole thing is more cohesive when we’re doing it together.”
It’s also just the kind of opportunity her new business partner, Jan Firek, has been looking for ever since he moved to Nashville two years ago.
Firek started out as a schoolteacher in Michigan, but eventually landed in the big-city restaurant biz, working his way up the ladder in New York and Los Angeles. He doesn’t like to name-drop the famous restaurateurs he’s worked with, but he will mention a couple formative workplaces: August, the popular bistro in New York’s West Village, and the acclaimed Pizzeria Mozza in Los Angeles.
Hartel has been a much-admired chef in Nashville at least since 1999, when she and Griffith opened Sasso, a fine-dining restaurant that was a pioneer in East Nashville’s revival. They closed that and opened Mambu on Hayes Street two years later, and Mambu’s been one of the great under-the-radar restaurants in town ever since.
But the whimsical thrift-shop decor has become a little dated, and Hartel said she and Firek plan to generally freshen up and streamline the restaurant, which they are renaming Rosebud Bistro.
The decorative tchotchkes are on their way out, and the menu will become more focused on “regional European” cuisine, classic dishes and an assortment of good wines to complement them, all at an affordable price. Firek’s the wine guy, and promises some delightful options, none priced more than $10 a glass.
He also plans to beef up service and efficiency, and both he and Hartel hope their efforts will pay off as Midtown looks to a busy future — a new $200 million office complex for two HCA divisions is in the works a couple blocks away, and more hotels are expected to join the Hutton and Aloft (the latter formerly Hotel Indigo) as nearby neighbors.
Mambu as we know it will close New Year’s Eve, and reopen as Rosebud Bistro on Jan. 4. It’s located at 1806 Hayes St. (329-1293).
A version of this story appeared in my Food Biz column in this week's print edition of The City Paper and online in the Nashville Post.