With a wealth of experience that includes opening eight restaurants, including three with hospitality legend Sean MacPherson, general manager Celine Valensi has just the right touch to ensure guests at the Crow’s Nest Inn in Montauk have the time of their lives. We caught up with Valensi to get the scoop on her hospitality background and the secret to staying calm amid a flurry of activity.
Where were you born, where did you grow up, and what kinds of things were you interested in as a kid? I was born and raised on the Upper East Side of Manhattan where my mom still owns and operates the restaurant she opened when she was pregnant with me, Mon Petit Cafe. As kids, my brother Nick (Nick Valensi of The Strokes), sister Alessandra and I used to sit and do our homework at a back table and wait for our mom to finish work.
Has your career always been in restaurants and nightlife?
Hospitality is in my blood – it’s all I’ve done.
What’s it like working with Sean MacPherson?
I first met and started working with Sean MacPherson when I was 21. Still a sassy kid then, and I generally had problems with authority/bosses because I felt like I knew more than everyone else, especially in my industry. I thought because I had already climbed the wall of working in 1, 2 and 3 star restaurants, I had reached a ceiling of what I could learn in my business. Sean, however, is far more punk rock than I and continues to take me to school on a daily basis on everything from electrical wall panels to water service. He’s seemingly psychically plugged into what people don’t even know they want yet. Within the company we call it his Midas touch.
What is an average day like for you, if there is such a thing as an average day?
I live on property at The Crow’s Nest so I can be there just about every waking moment. We run a 16 room inn in addition to our restaurant which keeps me putting out fires most of the day. While it’s a 7-day work week from May through September, I sneak out most days when the heat and sun are highest because my office doesn’t have AC. Between noon and two most days this summer, you can find me at Ditch Plains beach either tanning or surfing.
What do you enjoy the most about your job, and what are some of the challenges?
Crow’s Nest has the advantage of being on "island time." Most people in Montauk are on vacation, and generally easier to please (as well as more tan and more fun). A major disadvantage to our location is the mere distance to everything. If we need birthday candles in a pinch for instance, no busser is running across the street to the nearest bodega as he might in NYC. Out at the very End as we call it, what you go into service with is all you’ve got.
How do you help people feel relaxed and have fun while also making sure they’re having a special experience?
I wear a miniskirt. No, just teasing – it’s about value. People want to see value in the dollars they put out. In our case, we have a tremendous advantage of being positioned on Lake Montauk, adjacent to wetlands. The environment alone launches guests into a serene mindset, with gorgeous sunset views (each room has a private deck) and endless bottles of rosé.
What advice would you give someone who is interested in doing what you do?
Go out to your local diner, bar, bistro, cafe or wherever you can imagine yourself working and get a job – any job. After opening 8 restaurants (3 of which for Sean) and working in a handful of others, I’ve learned that secretly, every restaurant is the same. While the variables will undoubtedly change from spot to spot, the principals of labor/food cost are the same everywhere. And hospitality, at its core, is unwavering.