With hits like STK, One, Kiss & Fly, Coco de Ville, and Tenjune in his portfolio, the CEO of The One Group dishes on the bar/restaurant prototype, banking big in difficult times, and a newfound affection for live music.
Favorite restaurants? There was a restaurant called Baoli in Cannes that was probably one of my favorite restaurants, and was also a major inspirational restaurant for me in what we started to do here in America. In terms of Italian, I like Da Silvano in New York. I love my own restaurants— does that count?
What’s your guiltiest pleasure? Wow where do I start? I would think eating, and having that bread roll before dinner. I should never have it because afterwards, I’m completely full, but I usually end up going to dinner so hungry that I just eat anything that’s put in front of me.
What’s on your radar for 2009? The STK in Miami is opening soon, right? It is under construction but will be open by April. That will open with a 7,000-square-foot restaurant with a 2,000-square-foot lounge adjacent to it, called Coco de Ville. And that’s pretty much how we operate our restaurants 9 times out of 10, we’ll put a lounge or a bar adjacent to or in the same infrastructure as the restaurant. Kind of a trademark of ours.
Aside from the obvious convenience factor of that, what are your other motivations for building adjacent bars and restaurants? If you look at the setup for all the things that we’ve created or we’re associated with, we try to create environments that are multi-purpose venues. For example, if you go to STK in New York, you can go to Tenjune, and then we’re building a rooftop restaurant in the Meatpacking District on that building. If you go to LA, you can come to STK and Coco de Ville, and we are building another bar adjacent to that. The real purpose is to give multiple reasons for people to visit our venues, and then they’ll go to one of those venues, or turn to eat at one or drink at another, and it sort of gives us a better ownership of the clients and creates an overall better experience. Populating close areas with mass entertainment is a really good way to secure continuation of revenue and also continuation of a good time.
When will the rooftop at STK New York open? We are going through the planning process and applications now. I would hope to get it open for this season. New Yorkers love outdoor dining, and we just can’t get enough of it. We have beautiful views over the elevated park out to the Hudson, and it’s going to be a very exciting project.
STK is one of my favorites. Oh thank you very much. It was built with you in mind— a girl who cares.
Who are two people in the hospitality industry that you look up to or two of your industry icons? One of them would be Steve Hanson. I think his attention to detail and his focus on guest service and guest experience is really something. Another person is an old school guy, and that’s Peter Morton, the founder of Hard Rock. They both have completely different operational rationales. Both were truly successful. Steve Hanson operates like the One Group. He’ll operate multiple venues with different styles of food, of design and decor, but with a common thread being that of procedure, service, routine, and structure. Peter Morton, on the other hand, went the other way, and he just focused on one single offering— the Hard Rock. That was the only thing he was really interested in, and he built a great company and just focused on that one product. I’ve had many conversations with Peter Morton about the importance of focus and attention, and I just build a different business. So what’s interesting is that the two people that I think are iconic in our industry have two completely opposite operational rationales.
What are some positive trends that you’ve seen recently in the hospitality industry? For an entrepreneur, and for someone who has confidence in their operation and in the generality of the economy— it’s going to come back. Certainly in my life and business, which I am embarrassed to say is over 30 years, there’s never been a better opportunity to expand a company. And I’m probably one of the few people that is prepared to stand up and say that. I tend to have a much greater degree of confidence in the public and in their ability to work their way through the economy than I probably have in the government to make it happen. And I think hospitality is something that is susceptible to recession, but if one’s clever in the way one markets and the way one positions their product, then I think you can put a buffer up against the recession.
What’s something that people might not know about you? Just say, “He smiled happily.” And then sunk into a corner. I am slightly dyslexic, and not a lot of people know that. And yet I can absolutely read a legal contract, but I can’t read a book. I can play the piano, but I cannot read music. I also live for skiing.
What’s something on your radar right now? Live music. Over Christmas, I went to see Kid Rock play at a party. And I’ve never liked Kid Rock’s music, but I thought he was unbelievable in concert. And I’m watching him perform at this party, and I realized it’s more that you have to experience something in order to appreciate it. I would say that I definitely want to go see more live entertainment. I’ve been involved in live entertainment venues in the past. In one company, we operated more than five cabaret halls with live music, dancers, and magicians. It’s one of those things that if I could find more time, I could definitely go to concerts more. Even to see concerts that didn’t necessarily appeal to me, just to see if my view changes having seen them perform live.
What are you doing tonight? I am going to STK LA with my girlfriend. She has a company called Omnipeace that gives their money to build schools in Africa and helps finance food for villages. I try to get people to pay me for food, and she gives food away.