Top Chef Alum Avishar Barua has a Second Restaurant in the Works
The chef’s Brewery District restaurant, Agni, will fill the former Ambrose and Eve space.
Chef and Columbus native Avishar Barua is planning to throw a Midwestern backyard barbecue in the Brewery District, and everyone’s invited.
On the heels of announcing his first restaurant, a Bengali-American daytime café called Joya’s in Old Worthington, the former Top Chef: Portland contestant is ready to unveil plans for his next project. In an exclusive interview with Columbus Monthly, Barua shared that he has signed a lease on the former Ambrose and Eve space at 716 S. High St., where he plans to open Agni, a live-fire restaurant named after the god of fire in Hinduism and inspired by Midwestern backyard barbecues.
“Like when you go to your friend's house, and there's someone torching burgers, drinking beer. It's so much fun, that experience,” Barua says. “If I can recreate that in a restaurant, I think that'd be something uniquely Columbus or uniquely Midwestern.”
While Joya’s Café will focus on breakfast, lunch and street foods on one end of High Street, Agni on South High will serve just dinner. The chef says he preferred that approach to opening one big restaurant with multiple personalities.
“You know, you don't really get any chance like this nowadays,” Barua says about the opportunity Top Chef has afforded him. “So, I thought I'd go for it. One [restaurant] will be during daytime, and one's for night. I was trying to think about how much we were doing sometimes at Service Bar [Barua’s former restaurant], and how we tried to do everything for everybody, and it does not work out.”
Barua’s new restaurant will include a Grillworks wood-fired grill, a cult favorite among chefs. Barua says at least some seats will offer customers a front seat view of the kitchen.
The chef says he is cognizant of the esteem in which Ambrose and Eve was held in its short lifespan. The restaurant, owned by Matthew Heaggans and Catie Randazzo, shuttered in 2020 after just two years.
"I'm rebuilding everything on the inside out, because I don't want people to think it's Ambrose and Eve. I don't want [diners] to have memories of it being Ambrose and Eve and say, 'Hey, you're doing this wrong,' because I think they've done a great job with it. You know, my style is different than their style. It will be dramatically different when you walk in.”
Given its Midwestern barbecue inspiration, Barua’s second venture will make good use of the front patio and porch, and the chef plans to build a back porch as well. The Brewery District restaurant sits on the same stretch of South High as Antiques on High, Law Bird and Emmett’s Café, something that was influential in his decision to open a restaurant in the area.
"It's cool to be part of something. It feels cool to have neighbors. I didn't grow up having neighbors, but now I have restaurant neighbors," he says.
Following his seven-episode run on season 18 of Top Chef, arguably the most popular cooking show on American TV, Barua says he was approached with multiple business opportunities—some of which tried to woo the Columbus native away from his hometown. Instead, Barua decided to make a go of it here.
"I could have just gone [somewhere else],” he says. “I know I would've made more money. But I do believe in Columbus. So, I think it's worth a try.”
Barua says he is sticking around because he wants to change the Columbus dining scene. But what exactly does change mean to him?
"I just think we need more people taking more risks, honestly. I mean, we always have commentary on what's wrong. And I was like, ‘Well, why don't we try to do what's right?’ It's challenging, scary, but we’re trying to do it,” he says. “I hope the city supports it. … I'm from here. It sounds good to me. I've spent almost my entire life in Columbus. I feel like I can't be the only person that has this opinion or feeling.”
Joya’s, which is named after Barua’s mother, is starting to take shape in Worthington. Construction is currently underway at the café space, which was most recently Sassafras Café. It recently secured its liquor license, and Barua has added a takeout window to the storefront, an addition that he believes will engage pedestrians walking by and visitors to Worthington’s popular outdoor farmers market.
Some early menu items that Barua is planning for Joya’s include Vietnamese egg coffee, something he first enjoyed while travelling in Hanoi, as well as his Bengali-inspired kati roll, which Barua first introduced at Service Bar.
In addition to breakfast and lunchtime service, Joya’s will also offer Barua a space to host creative pop-ups and special supper clubs—something the chef hosted earlier in his career and is excited to return to. He also plans to have Joya’s and his Brewery District restaurant play off each other, though those plans are still in the idea stage.
Barua is targeting a mid- to late-August opening for Joya’s and hopes to open Agni by the end of the year.