The pandemic itself didn’t kill Cadence. But it was the pandemic that caused the married chef-owners of the trail-blazing Kensington BYOB to decide it’s time to move on and start a new chapter in their lives. They announced plans on Instagram to close their celebrated restaurant in August.
“We could have kept going for another five years,” said co-owner and chef Jon Nodler in a phone interview, but the difficult year made them “scrutinize their priorities” and decide it was time to move back home to Wisconsin, where they hope to start a family.
Indeed, Nodler and his partner and wife, pastry chef Samantha Kincaid, scrambled their way through every pivot possible in the past year to keep their restaurant afloat. They made meal kits. They cooked food for World Central Kitchen. The began grinding fresh masa to supply Proyecto Tamal and their own taco kits.
“We did takeout. We did outdoor dining. We did the Texas barbecue Sunday pop-ups with Scott Hanson. And we did special pop-up events (off-site) all last summer — much of it while I had a broken ankle,” says Nodler. Kincaid also worked a second job as a grain ambassador and recipe developer with Deer Creek Malthouse. “It’s not strictly a financial closure, because we did kind of weather the pandemic. The decision ultimately came from slowing down and reflecting more not just on the past year, but the past decade of grinding we’ve just gone through.”
They will continue serving their four-course tasting menu ($58) through mid-August. Hanson’s pop-up will end on July 4.
The couple have been key players in some of the city’s most notable restaurants since arriving from Madison, Wis., in 2012, including Will BYOB and R2L, High Street on Market, Fork and a.kitchen, as well High Street on Hudson in New York. When they finally launched their own concept, along with initial partner Michael Fry, Cadence became one of the darlings of 2018, serving-up gorgeous, hyper-seasonal local plates with a whole animal ingredients. The live fire hearth lends a rustic touch, and a fine-dining polish that was ambitious for a BYOB. The restaurant earned a three bell review and multiple Top 25 nods from the Inquirer, and was named the best new restaurant in America by Food & Wine in 2019. It was also one of the more progressive restaurant workplaces in town, becoming one of the first to add a surcharge to help pay a healthcare stipend for its seven full-time employees.
In some ways, Cadence was hampered by its national success, which cemented its reputation as a special occasion destination while Nodler and Kincaid aspired to also grow a more accessible connection with their neighborhood by carving out reserved spaces at the chef’s bar for walk-ins, and attempts at a lower-priced lunch service.
Cadence’s closure also reinforces the limitations that Philly’s famed BYOB genre faces when it embraces fine-dining ambitions. The concept’s limited potential for revenue growth can be a challenge.
“People come into the restaurant, look and say, ‘It’s booming!’ But then I’m in the back working in the dish pit and Sam and I are locking the doors every night,” said Nodler. “It’s not that you can’t make it work without the extra revenue liquor. But when you start thinking about having a family and occasionally stepping away, the 90-hour work weeks don’t leave much freedom for other things in life.”
Leaving Philadelphia will be “bittersweet,” he says. “We came here to be a part of the excitement of openings like Will and the arrival of chefs like Peter Serpico and Eli Kulp. We could not have been part of a more immersive culinary scene. We did everything we could to put our heads down and work. We’re sad to be walking away, but hopefully, we left a nice mark.”