A renowned New York City chef is getting in on the fast-casual game by spinning one of his fine-dining dishes into food-stall fare.

Marc Forgione, chef and owner of Restaurant Marc Forgione in New York’s Tribeca neighborhood, opened Lobster Press in The Pennsy, a new food hall in Penn Station. The star of Lobster Press’s menu is the restaurant’s namesake, a hot lobster panini served with a side of Chili Lobster dipping sauce—a dip that had become famous at the chef’s fine-dining establishment.

Forgione says The Pennsy approached him about doing a seafood-based concept in the food hall and, after a conversation with his lobster purveyors, he decided lobster sandwiches would be an innovative on-the-go option for Penn Station travelers.

“Especially after Danny Meyer cashed in with Shake Shack, I think everybody is trying to come up with the next Shake Shack,” Forgione says. “But I did know this: If I was going to do something, it was going to be something different.”

Aside from the Lobster Press Panini, the new concept features Coconut Lobster Bisque, a Chili Lobster Salad, and Da Dip, a regular grilled cheese with a side of the dipping sauce, among other items.

Forgione says the Chili Lobster dip had become a popular late-night snack for his cooks at the fine-dining restaurant, which gave him the idea to pair it with the sandwiches at Lobster Press.

“We were already making different types of sandwiches and dipping them in that sauce; we’d been doing it for years,” he says. “We just never thought to turn it into something for the public. Once we decided we were going to try to come up with a sandwich idea, it just seemed very natural to serve the sauce on the side to dip it.”

The Pennsy also features stalls from Mario Batali (Mario by Mary, an Italian concept in collaboration with caterer Mary Giuliani) and Pat LaFrieda (Pat LaFrieda Meat Purveyors, a butcher shop and sandwich concept). There’s also The Little Beet, the vegetable-forward fast casual from Aurify Brands, and The Cinnamon Snail, a food-truck-turned stall that dishes vegan fare.

Forgione says the team is working out all of the systems at The Pennsy location, which has been open just over two weeks. He says once the systems are together and the concept is proven, he’d like to open as many as possible, citing stadiums, music venues, and shopping malls as possible destinations.

“I think the future of fast casual is trained chefs—trained, experienced restaurant chefs—because people are demanding quality, creativity, and all those types of things,” he says. “People care about what’s going in their bodies. So you need somebody that is trained in making sure you have the freshest, most delicious, most creative things that you can do.”

By Sam Oches

Consumer Trends, Customer Experience, Emerging Concepts, Fast Casual, Menu Innovations, News, Restaurant Operations, Sandwiches, Lobster Press