Dagny Mendelsohn is the front woman representing the 11 total owners at Macao Trading Company. She hails from the other serious foodie city, San Francisco, once she set foot in New York, she learned the heart of the restaurant business from one of the best, Keith McNally. She embraced the underground hipster scene from being part of APT, as well as gaining an education from the fashionistas (a.k.a. Richie Rich). At Macau, she brings it all together under one roof with dinners for people like Perry Farrell, Mick Rock and Morimoto.
Was San Francisco an influence in your career choices? My parents are very involved in the art and food scene in San Francisco. One of their best friends is the chef, Alice Waters and also Patricia Unterman who is a restaurant critic and owner. San Francisco is dedicated to amazing meals with fresh produce from the garden. It was always in my blood, but I didn’t know I would go forward with it. My family also has a vineyard a hour out of San Francisco, and I grew up surrounded by artists and chefs.
Anyone in particular? When I was growing up, Richie Rich baby sat me. My mom and Richie were really good friends. So I went to all the gay parties. I was at the Beige Party every Tuesday. I also worked on his first Heatherette show.
How’d you break into the New York scene? I decided to start promoting at a place on Avenue A called Opalene while I was at NYU. It was a good party because I brought the fashion crowd from my internships — at Betsy Johnson, ELLE and VH1 — and older New Yorkers that I met through my family and the men I dated. When I finished NYU, I started modeling. I had a rock ‘n roll look that was starting to be popular, and I signed a 3 year contract with Elite. The whole experience turned me off to fashion.
How’d you meet Keith McNally? I finally called Alice Waters and she set up an interview with Keith McNally. He hired me at the interview and I started working at Pastis. I learned so much from Keith. He is one of the most intelligent businessmen I’ve ever met. We’re still friends. After work, the staff would all go to APT. I became friends with the manager, Ray Percal, and he eventually said, “Since you’re here every night, you should just work here and get paid for it.” But then, Keith called me and offered me to open Schiller’s with him from scratch.
Where’d you go from there? I was the general manager at Bar 11. It was a rock n roll and fashion bar. Then the boys from Employees Only called me. Billy had been the bar manager at Schiller’s. Igor I knew from Pastis days. Dushan, Jay and Akiva had all been bartenders at Schiller’s. We’re all McNally people.
Did you get back into throwing parties? Yes, everywhere. At Hiro for three years. I worked with GBH. I started a Saturday night party at Movida and 205 on Tuesdays. Then I got exhausted. I decided I didn’t want to stay out all night anymore. So I quit all the promoting. Then all the same guys who pulled me for Employees Only asked me to be part of the next project, Macao. This space came from meeting with Patrick Fahey. He was part of this space.
What exactly is your involvement at Macao? I’m a managing owner.
Where do you go when you’re not at work? Commerce, Employees Only, Takahachi, the movies.
Who do you admire in the business? There’s a list of people in the industry who I admire and who have influenced me over the years. Alice Waters, Patricia Unterman, Ray Pirkle, Serge Becker, Riad Nasr, Keith McNally, Stanley Morris and the team behind Employees Only.
What’s something people would be surprised to find out about you? I’m a brown belt in Tae Kwon Do. I’ve always wanted to be a private investigator.
Who’s your favorite artist? Cindy Sherman, Eric Mendelsohn’s sketches…no relation, Eric Orr, John Register.
What’s your favorite city? San Francisco because it will always be home and the most beautiful place in the world. I miss it for the farmer’s markets and the freshest produce, for the restaurants, the gardens, the parks, the art, the music, my family. I could go on forever.