James Kent, Chef Who Was Building a Restaurant Empire, Dies at 45

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He had opened two restaurants and a cocktail bar in downtown Manhattan, and he was preparing for a big expansion backed by LeBron James.

James Kent, a distinguished chef and successful Manhattan restaurateur who seemed poised to become a food-industry tycoon, died on Saturday in the Bushwick section of Brooklyn. He was 45.

The cause was a heart attack, his wife, Kelly Kent, said in a statement on Monday. He was in Brooklyn at the time because he had been asked by a restaurant there to do graffiti art, which was a hobby of his since boyhood.

His death was first announced on Saturday by Saga Hospitality Group, the holding company of his two restaurants, Crown Shy and Saga, and his cocktail bar, Overstory, which are all in the same building in Manhattan’s Financial District.

In 1993, when Mr. Kent was a 14-year-old growing up in Greenwich Village and already working at a restaurant, his mother made him knock on the door of their building’s newest resident, the celebrity chef David Bouley. The young man asked if he could spend time in Mr. Bouley’s kitchen. Mr. Bouley said yes. James spent the summer working at Bouley, the chef’s TriBeCa mainstay.

Before long, he was also working at famed New York City restaurants like Babbo, Jean-Georges, Eleven Madison Park and NoMad, where he became the executive chef.

He opened his own restaurant, Crown Shy, in 2019 with a partner, Jeff Katz, the general manager of Del Posto, an Italian restaurant in Manhattan that closed in 2021. “At Crown Shy, the Only False Step Is the Name” read the headline of a “critic’s pick” review by Pete Wells, the restaurant critic of The New York Times. (The name refers to tall trees’ tendency not to allow their upper stories to grow entangled with the branches of their neighbors.)

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