REYNA’s restaurant opening was one of the hottest openings in New York City this fall. Widely known as one of Toronto’s top hotspots for Mediterranean fare and cocktails, REYNA is the brainchild of restaurant industry veteran Nicki Laborie. She has been in the restaurant industry for over 30 years and currently operates two REYNA locations in Toronto – Bar REYNA and REYNA on King – as well as a new Union Square location in New York City.
REYNA, which means “QUEEN” in Spanish, was created by Nicki Laborie in Toronto in 2016. After the brand quickly rose in popularity thanks to its delicious Mediterranean tapas and inventive cocktails, it quickly became a Toronto staple and two more locations opened within Three years. After closing one location due to COVID, Laborie ventured back to New York City to launch her first REYNA location in the US
“In the last 15 years especially, Toronto has rebounded in the culinary world, catching up to what New York has been doing for decades,” Laborie explains. “In terms of the differences at REYNA in each city, I believe if you give people what they want, you will gain a loyal customer base and we make it our mission to make that happen through our style of service.”
“In both Toronto and New York, we have created a loyal customer base who love to dine with us. As we create a dining experience complete with food, drink and vibe, we at Reyna believe that when people want to go out and spend their hard-earned money on a dining experience, they will remember.” The people who made this experience fun and special more for that than anything else.”
REYNA’s Union Square menu features an innovative mix of Spanish, Greek, Italian and Arabic dishes rooted in bold Mediterranean flavors.
“The food at REYNA Restaurant is a fusion of the Mediterranean coast from Lebanon to Greece to Spain to Portugal – and more,” Labori explains. “All locations where we encourage chefs to be creative and think outside the box and there is no dish that isn’t on the menu. An example of this is lamb baklava – lamb braised for 12 hours, wrapped in qataifi, baked and served with saffron honey and pistachios. This is one dish that doesn’t to be missed.”
Highlights include: Lebanese “tacos” made with homemade flatbread, chicken or falafel marinated in renaissance, garlic aioli, Lebanese pickles, Turkish dressing and crispy onions. lamb baklava made with kataifi, braised lamb chops, burnt saffron honey and pistachios; and Manchego and Cauliflower Croquettes with Spanish Aioli. Alongside REYNA’s signature dishes, there are new menu items exclusive to New York, including seafood towers, paella, and turkey manti.
REYNA also offers a proprietary-inspired bar program that encourages mixologists and bartenders to think outside the box – from start to presentation.
“With cocktails, it’s about a well-balanced menu with various flavours,” says Laboure. “And we generally stay on top of trends. Each location has their own 6-8 Reyna Signature cocktails which we try to update the list at least once or twice a year.”
“With the New York-based menu, our mixologist was inspired by the ‘liquor washers.’ So, we have items like infused bourbon and coconut as part of some of our REYNA cocktails.” And while every location has great cocktails, there are also One cocktail remains a bestseller at every location: the Mezcal Smokeshow.”
Cocktail highlights include: Please Sir, some Mo made with fat-washed Brie and Woodford bourbon, pear-walnut syrup, lemon, egg white, Cabernet Sauvignon, Chambord, and burnt pear refreshments; Eleanor’s Mistress is made with fig mare and white mustard, Bao Bao liqueur, apple thyme syrup, white port, Bryce Palta Cava, lemon, fig and fennel; and a boredom in a Buckingham made with woodford bourbon-washed duck fat, plum liqueur, blueberry confit syrup, lemon, cardamom bitters, plum bitters and rosemary infused with absinthe.
We chatted with REYNA owner Nicki Laborie about the new opening, being an entrepreneur and more. That’s what she had to say.
What made you decide to open REYNA in New York City after starting your career here 30 years ago?
New York City has always been my favorite city in the world, and as I left in 2002, I visited regularly to see friends and the city. During Covid Canada was very strict, so, I came to NYC for 6 weeks. I realized (unfortunately) that there was a lot of opportunity as many restaurants were closed due to covid. I started looking around and in October of 2021, I signed a lease on REYNA New York on the 13thy Street and 5y street. The restaurant landscapes in both Toronto and New York are quite similar in my opinion.
Talk about the feelings and atmosphere in the space. Who is behind the design and what do you love about it?
The atmosphere at Reyna is cheerful, exciting and lively. The lighting and music are my obsession and have to be set just right to give off the Reyna vibe which is reflected in each location. In terms of design, while they all have their own individual personalities, I’ve always been very involved with design. When Reyna was first set up in Toronto, I felt like the restaurant scene was very cold and male-dominated, so the main thing I wanted was warmth. The design team’s biggest inspiration at the time was to focus on gold and jewel tones, which I felt would give the room warmth.
It was very well received, and so we’ve followed suit for the next few we’ve opened. The New York site has a very similar design to the original site with lots of gold, white and feminine colours. But on every site, there is always an inspiring element that I show the designers. In New York it was ostrich feather lamps. We worked with Delphine Mauroit of DM Design — and she did a great job of capturing exactly the direction we set for Reyna New York.
What are the features on the list?
Every menu has a section called “Rina’s Jewels” and these are the items that have been created over the years by different chefs in our kitchen. However, each site has its own audience, so the rest of the list varies. In New York, I was especially excited about the great seafood we had access to vs. Toronto, so we have more seafood options.
Over the past 30 years, what are some of the best career tips you’ve received?
As a business woman, it’s easy to ask if you’re good enough, tough enough, the right person for the job—and fall into a spiral of questioning everything, which in turn will slow you down. One thing is also true: While it doesn’t get easier, you do get wiser, better at your job, and more confident and resilient. My dad, who built a medical company from the ground up without anyone’s help, has always been an integral part of who I am as an entrepreneur and always reminds me that falling flat on your face will only make you stronger – as long as you learn from each fall. This has always stayed with me
As a restaurant lady, have you seen the industry change for the better in terms of equality? What is your opinion?
Personally, if I could hire all the women, I would! The whole reason behind REYNA is to celebrate women. And while yes, I feel like we’ve seen improvements in this male-dominated industry, it’s great that women are still fighting for their respect. Since Reyna means “queen” in Spanish, we honor this and I’m really trying to set women first. However, the difference from 20 years to now shows that change is happening slowly, but surely. My dream is to be an international executive chef at the helm of all of Reyna’s kitchens.
What advice would you give another woman trying to make it in the restaurant industry?
Believe in yourself, in your dreams and don’t let anyone convince you that you can’t do something. stay strong. Stay flexible. Remember that everything is temporary.
What is in the pipeline for REYNA?
No one to sit still, and naturally a baby on the beach, I am very drawn to the idea of opening a REYNA BEACH in such a sunny and beautiful place. But I also believe in following your path and your chances, so I take it day by day. I never force anything that doesn’t feel right, which always seems to work for me.