Derek and Daniel Koch are 26-year-old brothers and purveyors of one of New York’s hottest day parties: Saturday brunches at Merkato 55. They explain the logic behind a day party, the transition from college wrestling to nightlife artistry, and the ubiquitous nature of French toast.
Point of Origin: We were born in West Virginia and raised in the Ohio Valley area, about sixty miles west of Pittsburgh. There were a couple thousand people, it was a very small town. It was a village. We were at Ohio State University for two years, we were on the wrestling team, and we didn’t want to wrestle anymore. We wanted to move to a bigger city, try to reposition ourselves.
It was really weird transitioning — we were two athletes, but we were very artistic guys who wanted to search for a better life without having to go to school for something. We didn’t know what we wanted at that moment. We were 20 years old. Like everybody else, we needed job(s) to pay the bills. At the time, we were living in Brooklyn, and (Daniel) happened to be in the right place, at the right time finding a job via Craigslist at this little bistro on the Upper East Side — 69th and Madison, it’s still there, called Le Charlot — Derek walked in and asked for anything they had open, and (the manager there) told him to come back. Derek was put on the schedule, and I was waiting tables for, I don’t know, a good year. And the first week, he was waiting on Robert DeNiro.
The History of the (Day and Night) Day Party: We worked a few years separately — one at Le Bilboquet, one of us at Le Charlot — then we said, you know, we want to have more fun. Bilboquet looked like the place to make more money, have a little bit more freedom. We wanted to work together. (Daniel) left Le Charlot and went back to Bilboquet for about a year. The idea was for Aymeric (Clemente) to get Daniel back so we could do our Saturday brunch, which, Aymeric was the maître d’/manager of, who taught my brother and I everything we know, but Daniel and I were the servers. There were two waiters (us) and we’d be serving a crowd of about 200 people, (so, we did the Saturday brunch party) when the place only fit fifty.
How do your day parties work? We start the party at noon. It’s a brunch, it’s food, it’s a restaurant. At about 3 p.m., the music picks up, the crowd starts demanding more drinks, the lights are going up and down. By four, when it’s high-time, people are dancing on the tables, the music gets loud, and the weather outside is beautiful, it’s still light outside. By 5 p.m., well, the hours just turned back. So, 5 p.m., it’ll be dark, but it’ll still be daylight in the restaurant. It’ll still be like, okay, it just went from day to night, and ultimately before the clocks change, we take the party to Bijoux at 5 p.m. The party doesn’t stop until 10 on Saturday, but that’s all word of mouth. We don’t market that, we don’t send emails. At 6 p.m., most of these people don’t want to go; you have to kick them out because the restaurant’s open (at Merkato 55) for dinner service. So, you have to reset everything. When you’re there and you’re hanging out, you get on the mic, like, “okay, it’s 5:30 …” We turn the music down, you start hearing the music down on the ground, and everybody starts running downstairs. So, it starts in the day, it finishes at 8.
Who goes to day parties? This is a European market — for example, the Bagatelle clientele is about 90% European, and their DJs are great. We offer something a little different. We have mostly house music but, for a while, we’re playing everything. We have a 55% European, 45% American clientele. The American friends of ours are all starting to catch on to this St. Tropez-like vibe.
Industry Icons: Philippe Delgrange (of Le Bilboquet), who’s a huge part of this interview, by the way. He would definitely be our industry icon. Philippe Delgrange took us under, he’s like a second father, he would sign for our leases, we went to his house upstate; he’d be the guy, like the family man, that we’d eventually want to be some day — he’s our mentor. Just: everything. Other people: Frederick Lesort, Rich Thomas, Robert Montwaid, Aymeric Clemente, Patrick Cabido, Nicolas Barthelemy, Javier Vivas, Jordan Wheat, KyKy & Unik.
You guys work out of an office eight hours a day — what gives? Well, we’re licensors. We’re marketing, we talk to our clients, send them emails thanking them, we do tracking reports…anything. To produce a party at this stature, at this level — people are coming into your place and spending top dollars — you have to put forth the time to make it really work and to execute it and to make sure they had the ultimate experience. It doesn’t just come down to marketing. Also, you have to offer promotions, you have to make sure the music’s right, the lighting’s right, there’s things that you have to keep in order: the tuna’s not right, the ballroom is too small, et cetra.You can’t stretch yourself in this business. You really have to take a party, focus on it, and make it the best party of the week. We want to give that experience. That’s where you can grow, and your company can expand. You can be notable for that experience.
Give us the hard sell on Saturday brunch with the Koch brothers at Merkato 55. We’re mixing the music. It’s more friendly. There’re no egos. We have seating outside; our menu’s completely different from (the competition, and Merkato 55’s typical menu). We have American, we have burgers on the men; we actually have brunch items, too. We have French toast.
French toast at an African restaurant? We consolidated with our chef and said, “listen, we need to take some items from your dinner menu, from your brunch, and from your lunch, and combine them.” Yeah, French toast. French toast, everywhere.
How is it to work with your brother … all the time? We’re partners. We do everything, we don’t miss a beat, you know? We get each other’s emails, we’re constantly working together. If you had two people like you who had to do the same thing two times as hard as anyone else, it’s almost — the trust is there. The hardest part of being in business is finding a partner, and we found a niche. We like what we do, and right now, we’re having more fun with what we’re doing than we ever have.
What’re you guys doing tonight? There’s a little an industry party on Mondays at La Zarza. That’s our only other gig. We don’t email, text mail market, we just show up and have a good time. It’s fun for us. It’s an industry night. Something for people who’re in the business. La Zarza on Monday nights. Hands down. Saturday night was an all-nighter; Monday comes around and before you know it …
Is there ever a night where you guys don’t go out? Yeah. There’re six nights a week (laughing). The whole idea was to not get back into the restaurant business so fast and furious because, we actually enjoy our nights. (Derek) has a girlfriend, we’re office guys. We get things done during the day. We like going to events, to charities, stuff like that — stuff that we could never do before. To tell you the truth, you won’t find us in a club Tuesday, Wednesday … You’ll find us maybe Rose Bar on Tuesday, maybe Gold Bar on Wednesday, but if it’s got a club name on it, you’re not gonna see us in there. There’s a lot more to life than going out and getting shitty. You know, if you’re in the office the next day busting it out until four and you know that everything’s ready to go come Saturday because you put your time in … Put it like this: you can get a lot done going out before midnight.