Sept. 3, 2015 By Jackie Strawbridge
A Food Network personality and New York City restaurateur has plans to open a sprawling grill and speakeasy concept on Ditmars Boulevard.
Willie “Jack” Degel is the founder of the Uncle Jack’s Steakhouse chain, which has locations in Bayside and Manhattan, and a burger offshoot called Jack’s Shack.
He is also the star of Food Network’s Restaurant Stakeout, where he assesses restaurants by watching employees through hidden cameras – a practice he keeps at his own establishments, according to the show’s website.
Called Uncle Jack’s Meat Company, the restaurant will sit at 36-16 Ditmars Blvd., formerly the Square Hardware shop. The property owner confirmed that Degel is leasing the space.
Opening may be several months off, but Degel has already developed extensive plans for what he called the “experience” of Uncle Jack’s Meat Company. He described the restaurant as a “middle-concept, hip, cool, grill environment.”
He ran through several items on the expansive menu, which includes everything from filet mignon to roasted kale to rabbit. Appetizers and sides (“the sides are an experience”) are intended to be shared; they range from roughly $5 to $20 and include meat, seafood, vegetable dishes and more.
“Everything’s farm to table,” he noted.
Specially-created desserts will include a “homemade peanut butter banana jar,” filled with dulce de leche and other toppings, and a “fudge brownie soufflé,” a denser, sundae-like version of the classic dessert.
“I love what’s old, but I like to make it new again,” Degel said.
This philosophy will carry into the décor at Uncle Jack’s Meat Company as well.
“The whole place [will be] built to look like old, early meat warehouse factories, from the meatpacking district in the early 1900s,” he explained. “But then you’re going to have luxurious seating, plush red leather, big stools.”
He will also install a meat case to display different cuts and information about them.
“Like [in] a butcher shop, but it’s a bigger, unique, custom design,” he said. “It’s a visual meat experience.”
Degel plans to seat about 80 in the main dining room, about 40 in a bar-lounge up front, and 25 to 30 in an outdoor dining area.
Meanwhile, in the basement, Degel plans to open a speakeasy called the Laboratory, complete with a passcode-guarded entrance disguised as a meat locker door.
According to Degel, daily code words will be texted to “VIPs” to gain entry to the Laboratory. When asked what makes a VIP, Degel said, “by your affiliation already with the brand.”
“Become a regular, or you’re already a regular at one of my successful restaurants, or you’re networking through my management, my chefs, my people,” he continued.
A Flushing native, Degel said he was drawn to Astoria’s energy.
“I love that Queens and Astoria is more of a melting pot. It has such a mixture of people,” he said. “It’s great that it’s all mixed up, and people like to go out.”
Degel said he is currently in the permitting process, and hopes to open after the new year.