James Kent, NYC Restaurant Mogul Backed by LeBron James, Dies Unexpectedly at 45

Kent’s two restaurants, Crown Shy and Saga, earned one and two Michelin stars, respectively.

Chef James Kent

Kris Connor/Getty

New York City restaurant mogul James Kent, whose empire was on the cusp of national expansion thanks to backing by LeBron James’ investment firm, died over the weekend, his hospitality group announced on Instagram, along with a message to “celebrate Father’s Day with your loved ones.” He was 45.

Kent, whose two restaurants Crown Shy and Saga earned one and two Michelin stars respectively, spoke often about working in his uncle’s restaurant as a “young kid.” His culinary career was supercharged at the age of 14 when he was given a job in the kitchen of David Bouley’s eponymously named Bouley in TriBeCa. Kent was first introduced to the celebrity chef in 1993 after Bouley moved into his family’s building in lower Manhattan and his mother made him knock on the chef’s door, according to a New York Times obituary.

He went on to work for a number of buzzy fine-dining establishments, including Jean-Georges, Babbo, and Eleven Madison Park, where he first made a name for himself—as well as NoMad, where he served as executive chef.

Crown Shy, opened in 2019, was Kent’s first restaurant—and became so successful that he opened several other ventures in the same building. Those included Saga, a cocktail bar called Overstory, as well as a private dining room.

Kent’s restaurants were known for their dressed-down aesthetic. He played rap music at Crown Shy and often could be seen “wearing expensive sneakers” with his chef’s whites, the Times noted in its obituary.

He wanted to create “our generation’s restaurant,” he told running blog Bandit in 2022. (Kent was an avid runner and completed several marathons).

“If you were a chef in the city, you knew him,” Danny Garcia, the executive chef at Saga, told New York Magazine’s Grubstreet. “You had a moment with him, he touched you in some way, whether it was for five seconds or a series of years.”

Other chefs who worked with Kent remembered him, above all, for his kindness in an often rough-and-tumble industry.

“The industry, at least 12 years ago, wasn’t very kind to Black people,” Michael Adé Elégbèdé, a Nigerian chef who worked with Kent at Eleven Madison Park, told Grubstreet. “He always made sure that he made me feel that I was not alone even when I was the only Black person in the kitchen.”

“Growing up, you think to be a chef, you almost have to be insufferable and there’s a narcissistic expression of self to get any form of respect in the industry,” Elégbèdé added. But Kent showed him that “you can be talented, you can be great, and you can become passionate without being this clichéd idea of what a chef is.”

Before his death, Kent was planning to expand his empire nationally with a fried chicken sandwich restaurant that he hoped would rival fast-casual phenomena like Shake Shack—and he seemed poised to execute his vision with a timely investment from LRMR Ventures, which is run by LeBron James and his business partner Maverick Carter, the Times reported.

It remains unclear what led to Kent’s death—and where or how he died.

He is survived by his wife, Kelly Kent, as well as two children, Gavin and Avery.

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