Industry Insiders: Dennis Cornick, Maître D’ at Miss Lily’s

Dennis Cornick, the maître d’ at Miss Lily’s, takes care of the many regulars and restaurant-hoppers who flock to the Caribbean spot in New York for its jerk pork burgers and party atmosphere. The secret to keeping everybody happy, Cornick explains, is sincerity. "Good feelings are generally reciprocated," he says. We caught up with Cornick to learn a few tricks of the trade.

Where are you from?

I grew up in the city. I’m from the Bronx. I’m a true New Yorker. I’ve lived in every borough of New York City.

Even Staten Island?

Okay, every borough but Staten Island.

Poor Staten Island. It’s the forgotten borough. How did you get into the hospitality business?

I began in fashion. I worked at Bloomingdale’s. I was a manager there. But it was a little constricting. I wanted something more free, so I started in the restaurant industry about seven years ago. It’s hands-on and personal, and I fell in love with providing outstanding service.

You are the maître d’ at Miss Lily’s? What’s that like?

I’m the first point of contact when a customer comes through the door. I welcome them, and decide where to seat them, and the placement of the tables. My job is to remember the guest and make them feel welcome.

You seat 200-plus people a night, but you’re able to recognize regulars?

Absolutely, remembering regular guests–and people who we want to become regular guests–is second nature to me at this point.

How do you make people feel welcome and special at Miss Lily’s?

I tell my hosts and hostesses, whatever you have to say to guests, have a genuine conversation with them. Have a genuine interaction that shows you’re enthusiastic about speaking with them. And not in a corny way, have a sincere conversation. Guests feed off that. Good feelings are generally reciprocated.

What’s the vibe at Miss Lily’s?

It’s an artist vibe, with all kinds of creative people. Celebrities and entertainers, neighborhood folks. The food is like five-star cuisine, but the atmosphere is very laid back. You’re going to dance, you’re going to talk to a stranger at a bar and talk to the DJ. It’s like you’re at your friend’s house having a good time.

Miss Lily’s gets very busy at times. What do you do to keep people calm and happy if they have to wait for a table?

You check on your guests if they’re waiting at the bar, make conversation and see how they’re doing. I might send a few drinks over if they’ve been waiting a while.

Do you enjoy your job?

I love my job and the people I work with. They’re all fantastic individuals, and they bring the energy every day.

I assume you’ve tried most of the food. Are there any dishes in particular you like?

The jerk pork burger and fried snapper are to die for. I always recommend them.

Any notable cocktails?

You’ve got to try the Tempted to Touch, which is made with plum wine, sake, and fresh mint. It’s a fun, party drink, and very popular with the ladies.

Sounds like a busy, high-energy job. What do you do to relax?

I’m a spiritual person, so I like to meditate. I go to a temple in Harlem sometimes and meditate and talk about spirituality. It keeps me balanced.

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Industry Insiders: Meet Chris Hessney, EMM Group’s VIP Manager

Celebrity sightings are just a day in the life for Chris Hessney, the VIP Manager for EMM Group and their property CATCH, one of New York’s most exclusive seafood spots. “Since CATCH is a major destination, there’s a good chance you’ll spot a celebrity or ten dining at a table near you, a model, or a business executive of a company you’re a fan of.”

But more than the sightings, it’s the little moments that keep Hessney psyched about working at the Meatpacking District restaurant. “I love watching guests’ over-the-top reactions when we set the crispy whole snapper or the Cantonese lobster on their table,” he says. “Our one-year anniversary brought in over 800 groups of guests on a Monday night, which was an absolute blast.”

Top-notch New York food and hospitality has been the mainstay of Hessney’s career, where he was maitre’d at Morimoto, and manager of The Standard Grill. And it was at The Standard in 2008 where he first met EMM co-founders Eugene Remm and Mark Birnbaum. “EMM was the perfect next step for me,” Hessney says. “With them, the sky’s the limit.”

Find out CATCH chef Hung Huynh’s favorite app here.

Follow Bonnie on Twitter.

Industry Insiders: Courtney & Carter Reum, Founders and Owners of VeeV Açaí Spirit

Business ideas can come from anywhere. In the case of brothers Courtney Reum (left) and Carter Reum (right), it all started with a surfing trip to Brazil, where they happened upon a tasty and healthy fruit known as açaí. “It was there that we conceived the idea to bring açaí home in the form of a superfruit spirit and launched VeeV in 2007,” says Courtney. “Now we’re introducing Veev VitaFrute Cocktails, a line of organic and all-natural cocktails.” VeeV is available at such bars as Sons of Essex in New York and The Fat Cow in Los Angeles. We chatted with the duo to find out what led them to create their innovative elixir.

Where were you born, where did you grow up, and what kinds of things were you into as a kid?

Courtney Reum: I was born and raised in Chicago and I’m the oldest of three – my brother Carter, with whom I co-founded VeeV, is the middle child, and our youngest sister Halle used to work in our Events and Sponsorship Department. My hobbies are the same as when I was younger. I’ve always been into outdoor sports, especially soccer, and I love to travel. We took some amazing family trips throughout the years I have fond memories of.

What kinds of jobs did you have prior to launching VeeV, and how did they prepare you for the challenges you faced?

Courtney: I had several odd jobs throughout college, but my most impactful job that prepared and inspired me to launch VeeV was my job as an investment banker at Goldman Sachs in New York City and Sydney, Australia. There I worked on consumer products and beverage clients such as Procter & Gamble, Under Armor, and glaceau’s vitaminwater. I was also a part of the Pernod Ricard / Allied Domecq merger in the spring of 2005, which served as the catalyst for developing VeeV. Working with spirits brands helped me recognize there was a lack of alcoholic beverages with “better for you” ingredients that embody healthier qualities.

Carter Reum: My experience that best prepared me to start our company was with Champ Ventures in Sydney. It was there where I worked with several entrepreneurial start-ups and really understood the hard work, dedication, and tireless energy necessary to get a company off the ground. I helped to execute their investments and watched as so many grew to healthy, profitable companies. Being involved in the development of those companies helped to pave the way for our work on VeeV and how best to do the job.

How did you come up with the idea for VeeV? What about it made you think açaí would make a good ingredient for a spirit? What was it like coming up with the recipe?

Courtney: My brother and I first experienced the açaí berry during a surfing trip to Brazil, where it’s known as “purple gold” because of its superfruit health properties. We hadn’t heard of it before but being it is the staple food of Brazil we quickly became familiar with it (and fell in love with it) while we were on our trip. It was there that we conceived the idea to bring açaí home in the form of a superfruit spirit and launched VeeV in 2007, before the açaí trend emerged stateside. We left our investment banking careers to create VeeV and five years later we’re introducing VeeV VitaFrute Cocktails, our first line of organic and all-natural cocktails made with VeeV.

How difficult was it to launch your company? The spirits market is very competitive, was it hard to get noticed in a crowded field?

Courtney: It was very difficult for a number of reasons. Our only experience in the liquor category was through our work at Goldman Sachs, so in order to learn the ropes quickly we asked a lot of industry professionals for guidance. Then there was the fundraising part. Our brand story, who we are as a company, and the taste and quality of VeeV makes us stand out among competitors. We helped bring a form of açaí to the U.S. with the launch of VeeV and were at the forefront of the trend before it became a phenomenon. In addition to being the world’s first açaí spirit, VeeV is also the world’s first carbon neutral spirit.

How’s the business going now? Have people responded well to VeeV? Do they like the cocktails you’ve come up with? What’s your favorite VeeV cocktail?

Courtney: Since launching in Los Angeles in 2007, VeeV is now available nationally at major food and liquor retailers and dining chains. It is also served in many of the country’s trendsetting restaurants and hotels such as Disney Properties, W Hotels, Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts, LongHorn Steakhouse and Ruby Tuesday, on Virgin America flights, and the open seas of Celebrity Cruises. Sales are strong and continue to grow. We’re proud VeeV was ranked amongst the 250 fastest growing companies and brands in the U.S. by Inc. magazine and was recently profiled by CNBC as a ‘company and brand to watch.’

What’s your favorite VeeV cocktail?

Courtney: Believe it or not, my favorite cocktail is simply VeeV on the rocks with some water and a slice of lime. We call it The Brazilian Holy Water.

Carter: My favorite cocktail is one of VeeV’s most beloved, the Superfruit Margarita. It’s a refreshing twist on the classic margarita made with VeeV, tequila, agave nectar, and fresh lime juice, and served as the inspiration for VeeV VitaFrute Cocktails.

What was the idea behind VeeV VitaFrute cocktails?

Courtney: Our most popular VeeV cocktails are the Superfruit Margarita, Açaí Lemonade and Açaí Cosmopolitan. We’d hear from consumers all the time requesting these specific recipes and others.  After conducting research, we realized how popular these cocktails are and decided to bottle them in ready-to-drink form so our fans can enjoy the first organic and all-natural superfruit cocktails at home. We launched VeeV VitaFrute Cocktails in the three popular varieties and stores nationwide. It’s very important to us as a brand and a company that we make products and business decisions that are sustainable and “better.” Our tagline is “a better way to drink” which we believe encompasses who we are.

What’s an average day like for you? Do you work in an office or travel around a lot?

Courtney: Every day is different. Recently I have been spending a lot of time with our distributors to introduce VitaFrute to new markets and retailers. I try to be in the office a few days a week, but right now my office is really the open road or an airplane (so glad they serve VeeV on Virgin America!).

What’s your favorite part of your job, and what are some of the biggest challenges?

Courtney: My favorite part of the job is staying on top of industry trends, learning from them and trying to anticipate what’s next. When we meet with chain retailers we present unique cocktail strategies that are innovative and on-trend before the trend hits. By the same token, it’s extremely important to remain true to our brand’s core and not neglect our loyal consumers, so determining that balance is fun and exciting, yet challenging too.

What’s it like working with your brother? Do you have different roles in the company, different areas of expertise?

Courtney: My brother and I are very close but we have distinct personalities that have shaped the company and the direction we have taken with VeeV. I tend to approach VeeV with grandiose, big picture ideas and Carter is great at making me take a step back to analyze. We have a great working relationship that has brought us closer together as brothers.

Carter: Courtney and I have a great dynamic that has lent to some incredible ideas and work that we’re proud of. We balance each other so that we achieve the big picture thinking within our parameters and budget. We’re never afraid to challenge each other but it also helps we share the same determination for success. We equally embody what VeeV is and have the same vision for the future.

Do you have any secrets to your success that you can share? What advice would you give to a younger person who is interested in following in your footsteps?

Courtney: My advice is to be patient with the evolution process and know everything isn’t going to be right on the first go. As time went on we further defined the brand and learned to more clearly communicate to consumers. Developing a brand from scratch is kind of like developing as a person. You go through all the awkward stages before realizing who you are and how best to present yourself.

Finally, what do you like to do with your time off? Do you have any hobbies or leisure activities that help keep you balanced?

Carter: We have a sustainable garden in the backyard of the house we share in LA which has become a passion of mine. On the weekend, I’ll tend to the herbs and fruit in season which we use to make garden-to-glass cocktails from. We bring some to our LA events as ingredients for VeeV Cocktails. 

Courtney: I’m an outdoors guy and love hiking, biking and really anything that involves exercising outdoors. I also enjoy trying out new restaurants with friends and family. VeeV never strays from my mind though because when I go out, I can’t help but wonder if VeeV is on the back bar or the cocktail menu.

Industry Insiders: Tony Hudgins, Owner of Capitale in Washington, D.C.

Running a successful nightclub in Washington, D.C. requires a different formula than it does in New York, and nobody knows this more than Tony Hudgins, owner, along with partners David Chung and Ki Jun Sung, of the new Capitale on K Street. To cater to his intellectual crowd, Hudgins takes a relaxed approach to the door. "We don’t try to make people feel like they’re not important enough to get in until we decide they are," he says. "It’s a bit of a twist on nightclubs." It is indeed. We chatted with Hudgins to get the lowdown on his pinstriped background and food truck fetish, along an only-in-DC cocktail called Taxation with Carbonation.

 

Where are you from and how did you get into the nightlife business?

I’m Washington, D.C.-born. I didn’t come up in the nightclub or restaurant business. I was a lawyer, and I’m now a recovering lawyer. I was a criminal prosecutor for nine years, and a local government attorney for about three years. I was working in Arlington County as a commonwealth attorney and saved my money. I got together with a bunch of friends, and we were doing a lot of traveling. At the time there wasn’t a robust nightlife component in Washington, D.C. We’d go to New York, LA, Miami, Montreal, places like that, and we’d come back and long for bars like they had. So we pooled our money and opened up our first nightclub with my business partner, Sherif Abdalla, and that was Play Lounge. We took a minimalist approach to it, on a shoestring budget, and did really well. We had a lot of media people looking for places to go. We had all kinds of celebrities coming through, Jamie Foxx, David Beckham when he first came to the city to play against D.C. United. It became a hot place. I’m the first person to tell you that our success was more luck than knowing what we were doing, but we cut our teeth there.

What happened next?

We wanted to open a bigger place so we sold our interest in Play and moved across the street. We thought the city was lacking an upscale sports bar and lounge, so we opened up a place called Public Bar that’s still there, a three-story with a rooftop spot that had a sports component but turned into a big nightlife atmosphere after dinner. It took off and worked out really well, so we decided to take on another project.

Which was …

Which was Capitale, which we opened in the former K Street Lounge space. We were familiar with the K Street Lounge, which had been around a long time. Everything was stark white or dark and super modern, but kind of cold. It was all promoters, and open four or five nights a week. So we looked at that and felt like something was lacking in the DC nightlife scene. The nightclubs here are great, but, quite honestly, some owners are overreaching a bit in terms of the nightclub atmosphere and what they’re expecting from the clientele here.

What do you mean?

It’s still Washington, D.C., it is very much an intellectually-based community of people. They’re smart people. DC residents might go to Miami or New York or LA or Las Vegas and be willing to spend a lot of money on a night out, but they’re doing it because they left to go engage in that atmosphere. I think a lot of people who opened nightclubs in Washington, D.C. over the last four to six years thought that the same guy who will go to Vegas and spend $1,500 on a table will come here and spend $1,500 on a table. Quite honestly, living here, working here, and even having the money to do that, it’s just not the mentality. We felt like there needed to be a nightclub that met more directly with the clientele, a nightclub that’s considerate of the fact that it’s not a travel destination city.

Sure it’s a travel destination.

Yes, but people don’t come here to party and engage in nightlife. That’s not to say that certain people don’t do it when they travel here, but that’s not their primary reason for coming. When you go to Vegas, even if you’re there for a conference, you’re still planning your nights out around where to eat, what show to see, that kind of thing. People don’t come here and do that. They come to a conference, or because they have to do something on the Hill, or some business with the law firms and consulting firms that are here. It’s a hopeful afterthought that they’ll find some good nightlife, but I don’t think they plan it that way. And so we opened Capitale.

How is Capitale different?

Our clientele is a lot of people who live here and this is their backyard. They want a nightclub that fits with the idea that this is their backyard. What that means is, people don’t want to walk up and be cajoled into buying a table, or needing a better guy-to-girl ratio, or we’re going to make you wait outside in line so we can build up the crowd and make it look like a hot night even though there’s only ten people in the club. So we changed some things. Personally, I was getting tired of the super-forward, hyper-modern look. I wanted something a bit more classic, something that looked as if it had been here for a long time, even though it was brand new. It would look warmer, more comfortable, more inviting. We were trying to do something comfortable. A little Harry Potter, a little library, a little mansion.

And then there’s Happy Hour, right?

Coming from a restaurant/bar perspective, happy hour had become important to us. It’s a significant stream of revenue, but most nightclubs don’t focus on happy hour at all. They’re a 10pm-to-close business. I tell everybody who works for me that I pay rent 24 hours a day, so I’m trying to get as much as I can out of those 24 hours. We feel that there’s a gap to be closed for a lot of nightclubs in the business district where we are. We’re in a building where we have (law firm) Reed Smith above us. There are law firms on every corner of the street, and there are very few after-work options for the people who work there. We’re also right at the end of the budding 14th Street Corridor here, one of the fastest growing restaurant and nightclub communities in the city. Stephen Starr is opening a restaurant here, and we’re excited about it. So we changed some policies.

What did you change?

We don’t do a cover on the weekends, we do a relaxed dress code on the weekends, we do a one-in one-out policy on the weekends to try to put off this fear people might have when they walk up and they see velvet ropes and go into this immediate trepidation of, Oh my god, am I going to get in? Will my friend get in? We try to make it a bit more open. We don’t play any games or make people feel like they’re not important enough to get in until we decide they are. It’s a bit of a twist on nightclubs.

It certainly is.

I’m sure people in Las Vegas, New York, and Miami wouldn’t run things that way, and we do mix in other nights that are promoted. We let the promoters, at our discretion, treat the door more like traditional nightclubs. But outside of that, we control the business on Fridays and Saturdays by ourselves. We promote Saturday on our own. And happy hour is very important.

Food trucks play a role, don’t they?

We found what we think is an exciting concept for us, we call it the Mobile Kitchen concept. Again, coming from a bar perspective, food is a necessary component of happy hour. People are not going to engage in happy hour very well if they don’t have anything to eat, and we don’t have a kitchen. As we were doing the renovation, we realized that we’re across the street from a really great park, Franklin Square Park, and down the street from another park, McPherson Square. The food truck scene is really hot here. A lot of people pack the park for lunch. So we’ve started a rolling partnership with a handful of food trucks. We have an open door policy. You can walk out, get your food, and bring it back in.

Taxation with Carbonation Photo

Tell me about the cocktails.

We worked with Marco Maffeo Robinson on our cocktail program. We asked him to give us a hybrid menu. We still focus as a volume place, so we’re not going to do flair-type cocktails. But we have a lot of interesting ideas, such as custom sodas for cocktails. Marco does custom sodas of different flavors. Vanilla soda, cucumber soda, that kind of thing. They’re premade and come out of those pre-charged bottles, like a seltzer sprayer. It’s a straight mix over the alcohol. Whether it’s gin, bourbon, or vodka, it’s a quicker, faster component, but still an original cocktail. Another component where the soda fits in is with table service. With traditional table service, your options are alcohol or champagne, juice of some sort, tonic, and soda. But we can transfer the custom soda to the table. Now you can have a cucumber-flavored vodka and soda, or a vanilla-flavored vodka soda that isn’t based on a vanilla-infused vodka. It’s custom and done right at your table. There’s also a signature cocktail called Taxation with Carbonation (blood orange juice, lemon juice, vanilla vodka, simple syrup, basil leaves, sparkling mineral water).

What else do you have on the horizon?

We’ve got a new gastropub opening soon in the Dupont Circle area called the Gryphon. It will be focused on food. We’re working on it, more on that soon.

What do you do to relax when you have free time?

I went to college to play soccer and I’m still kicking the ball around sometimes.

[Hudgins photo: Alfredo Flores; Cocktail photo: Vithaya Phongsavan]

[Related: BlackBook Washington, D.C. Guide, Listing for Capitale, How to Party Properly in Washington, D.C.]

Industry Insiders: Steven Abt, Co-founder of Caskers.com

Last fall, Steven Abt and partner Moiz Ali launched Caskers.com, a website that sells small-batch spirits like whiskey, gin, and vodka by featuring one a day–along with the history behind it. "The idea is to understand what you’re buying, so if you’re having a party you can tell the story of the distiller," Abt explains. "That reflects on you, and makes you look cool." We chatted with Abt to get the lowdown on the company’s unique business model and find out where he likes to go to research new product offerings. Take a look.

What’s your background?

I’m a former lawyer, and like most lawyers I enjoyed a drink from time to time. I’ve always been fascinated with craft products generally, and spirits specifically. Traveling around the country, I noticed that there are some products that are really good that you can’t get in California, only in New York, and there are certain products that you can’t get in New York, only in California. That’s an issue with the distribution network with spirits, and the fact these small craft brands don’t have much of a marketing budget. So I had this idea, along with Moiz, to figure out a way to spread the word about the better products we had tasted. The spirits we feature each have a story to tell, and we do that by telling the story of the master distiller. The idea hatched for a way to let people get to them.

How did the company come together as an invitation-only website?

You walk into a liquor store, and even if it’s a good liquor store, they have a ton of products. If you don’t know what you want, if you haven’t heard of something, it’s hard to discover a new product. We didn’t just want to be a site that has every craft liquor under the sun. With that, you’ve solved the availability problem but you haven’t solved the discovery problem because you’re overwhelming people with choice. We send out a daily email, and we have products that are featured for about two weeks. We give you a little hint of the story in the email, and you can click on it and read more, but that way it’s not taking too much of your time. If we put up 100 products it would take hours to go through. But one per day is a bit more manageable, and you can actually understand what you’re buying.

What are your most popular spirits?

Bourbon is the most popular. We’ve had a couple of vodkas that have done extremely well, and gin. There are people who are making sipping vodkas now. We taste everything before we put it up. When I’m drinking for fun, it’s usually rye whiskey. We’ve got one now called Catoctin Creek from Virginia that’s really good. I’m originally from Philadelphia, and there’s a burgeoning craft spirit industry in Pennsylvania. Out in Pittsburgh they make Boyd & Blair vodka, which has been named best vodka in the world twice. It’s our best selling vodka.

How often are new spirits added?

One spirit a day on weekdays, which is available for two weeks. We work with fulfillers around the country. We don’t take inventory, which helps us with startup costs. It’s a free membership, and you can purchase as much as you like.

Why are you guys the first to take advantage of this business model for spirits?

The regulatory maze we have to navigate scared a lot of people off. That’s where my three years of law school come in. We work within the traditional three-tier system, so all of our products go through distributors, with rare exceptions. In New York, distillers are allowed to sell directly to retailers, but that’s pretty much it.

Why do you like working with craft distillers so much?

These are people who quit their jobs to do what they love. It’s their passion, and they’re extremely proud of what they do. We’ve gotten so many emails from customers saying "This is a fantastic product." We forward those emails to them and it makes their week. They love the exposure and, of course, they like selling their product.

Are spirits geeks your core customers?

The biggest core group is people with an intermediate knowledge of spirits. And then there’s they hipster type and the local organic lover who wants all his products to be handmade and locally sourced. And all of our products are like that.

What bars do you like to visit for tasting spirits?

My favorite place in New York for trying new things is Rye House on 17th Street. They have a ton of rye and pretty much everything else. It’s a great bar with knowledgeable bartenders. And there’s Employees Only, of course. They make the best cocktails.

Into high-quality spirits? Then sign up for a Caskers account. Visit www.caskers.com/register and enter invitation code BLACKBOOK.

Industry Insiders: Brandon Freid, Vice President, Impulsive Group; President, Sanctuary Hotel

Brandon Freid has worked the front desk, been a concierge, and developed new properties like the Sanctuary Hotel in New York. This background suits him at Impulsive Group, a major player in the rapidly evolving hospitality landscape. “We have anything from a young hipster hotel to a four-star hotel with five-star service,” he says of the company’s properties. I chatted with Freid at Haven, the Sanctuary’s gorgeous rooftop bar, to get the lowdown on his busy life in the hotel world—and enjoy a pretty pink cocktail.

Where did you grow up? What kind of stuff were you into as a kid?

I was born in Melville, Long Island. I went to junior high and high school there, and then I went to college at the University of Miami, where I graduated in 2001. Ever since I was young, besides playing a lot of sports, I’ve always been involved in working with my father [longtime hotelier and CEO of Impulsive Group Hank Freid] with hotels. I’ve done everything from demolition—which is fun when you’re a kid—to construction, to concierge, to the front desk, to sales trips. I’ve run the gamut as far as the hotel industry is concerned. I’ve done acquisitions for some of our properties. For example, I found the Sanctuary property several years ago, purchased it, and hired the designer. I’m involved with hiring all the contractors for everything from the architecture to the design to the construction teams. I have my hands in everything.

Is that just for this property or are you that hands-on for all the Impulsive Group properties?

It’s for all of Impulsive Group. Sanctuary was really my baby, my first hotel, well as Haven, the rooftop restaurant and bar. I was really completely hands-on with this project, but I’ve been involved with every Impulsive Group hotel.

Which hotels are those?

We have the Ameritania Hotel which is on 54th and Broadway. And then we have some on the Upper West Side. We have a Moroccan themed hotel called Marrakech. We have another hotel called Broadway. So we have anything from a young hipster hotel to a 4-star hotel with 5-star service. We have two yachts that we use for charter. One’s based in Miami, in the Caribbean. And the other one is in the Mediterranean, in the South of France.

So you’ve grown up in the industry.

I really have. From day one I’ve had a hammer in my hand, and now I’m in a tie and I’m up in Haven, our latest venue, making sure that it’s running properly, that the food’s great, the drinks are great, that the atmosphere is what it should be.

What exactly is your job title? It sounds like you do just about everything, but what’s an average day like for you, if there is such a thing?

I’m involved with the overall umbrella company, which is the Impulsive Group. I’m the Vice President of Impulsive Group. So I’m in contact with all five hotels on a daily basis. And on a weekly basis I visit every hotel. I’m constantly meeting with the general managers of each property to get updated on what’s going on. I’m also the President of Sanctuary Hotel. I oversee everything from hiring the general manager to the front desk employees, and making sure that the service is great. You know, we have 111 rooms here, and with 111 rooms you are able to really provide service above and beyond, because we don’t have 500 or 1000 rooms. We know every guest that comes in and out of this hotel. We know what they like, what they don’t like, and we really cater to their needs. When Haven opened in the summer, my hours of work got extended. Before, I was up at 6:30 in the morning and I was getting home around 8. Now I’m not getting home until like 11 or midnight, I’m sleeping for a few hours, and then I’m back here again.

Do you have a specific type of guest that you try to target with Sanctuary and Haven?

Sanctuary and Haven are both located in Midtown Manhattan, which is really the center of corporate America as well as tourism. It’s the number one tourist destination in the United States. So during the week we’re heavy with our corporate business and on the weekends we have a lot of tourism. So we have a very big differentiation between the two.

It sounds like you have a pretty fun job.

It’s a great job. I’m not complaining.

Is there anything you don’t particularly enjoy about it?

I almost don’t consider it work, because I love what I do. I was just away for two weeks in Europe and I was looking forward to coming back. I couldn’t be any happier being here today than I was in South of France on a yacht yesterday.

Do you have a secret to your success?

I think that the only way to ever own and develop and properly manage hotels is to experience doing the positions of front desk agent, the housekeeping department, reservations, being a manager, being a GM, and so on. You have to know what to expect from those people and the only way to know that is to have been in those positions before. So I’ve been there and I’m able to really identify what those positions entail and what they require.

Have you ever worked in hotels under other companies?

I did when I was in college, when I was in the University of Miami. While I was in New York, I pretty much always worked beneath my father.

What did you study in college?

I studied Business Management.

Do you think going to college is important in your industry?

I do. I don’t think that it’s absolutely necessary because there are people who have succeeded without it, but I think it does help and it does broaden your horizons. And it’s always smart to go out of your element, from wherever you’re from, for a few years and experience life somewhere else.

Do you have any future plans?

(Laughing) Yeah, I’m young. A lot more hotels.

Anything specific in the near future?

I am looking at acquiring another hotel. I really can’t say more than that right now, though.

My pretty pink cocktail arrives.

What drink did you get?

This is the Aura.

I created that drink. It’s a great drink. It’s got muddled raspberry, mint leaves, simple syrup, and a half a squeeze of lemon. I love gin. This one’s made with Bombay Sapphire.

It’s delicious. [It really is.]

I think it’s great that that’s the drink you ordered.

Are you very involved with the menu here?

I am. I had the chef make me three things that I have no interest in eating right now, because I want to know how they look and what they taste like before they go on the menu. I taste every drink and every food item before it’s served to customers.

Did you have a hand in the decor as well?

Every single piece of it. I completely designed everything here, from the cedar that wraps around there, the reclaimed lumber in the ceiling–I went to Brooklyn to find it–to the umbrellas, to the tables, to the cushions.

Do you do that solo or do you work with a team?

We do it as a team at Impulsive Group. But these days I’m really the person in charge of finding it and making it happen, and I bounce my ideas off them.

Do you work a lot with your father?

I do.

Is that a smooth relationship?

I have a very unique relationship with my father where we’re best friends. We have a great work relationship, as far as partners. It’s great because we have five hotels and we’re able to both be in different places. He’s able to shine where he shines and I’m able to shine where I shine. It’s great to have another person you can trust to work with, but who will have a different opinion and sees things a little bit differently than you do.

What are the areas that you shine in as opposed to him?

He happens to be very, very good in the management. And I’m more of the creative, construction, visionary person. And I spearhead the acquisitions.

Have you thought about expanding outside of New York?

I have. And we’ve looked many times. At this point we just haven’t found the right opportunity. But I do plan on doing it. I would probably go into a major city like Los Angeles, Miami, or Chicago.

What do you do to unwind when you have time off?

I like to work out. I play tennis. I love hanging out with my friends and seeing my family.

Do you travel a lot?

I travel quite often. For me, Miami’s always an easy two-hour run on a plane, so I’m there a lot. Or California. I’d say I’m there four times a year. And every summer I travel to Europe.

Is there anything else I should know about you or your venues?

Yes. Try some food. You have to try the tuna and you have to try the crab.

A Tuna Tower and the Crab and Avocado Palette suddenly appear on the low wooden table before me.

Do you like crab?

I do.

Jump in there.

That’s delicious. [It really is.] 

The food’s good right?

Yes it is. Is it mostly seafood based?

No, it’s French-American cuisine. We have a great cajun chicken dish. We have a steak. We do have other fish though. We have a tilapia. We have a salmon. It’s light and fresh. That is also, I think, one of the things that makes the Haven Rooftop stand out – our food. We have two chefs and they really execute and we have a ridiculous menu.

Do you get a lot of outside customers at Haven or is it predominantly hotel guests?

I’ll tell you where we get the most, and honestly it’s our best publicity – our neighbors. All these tall buildings around us. That’s Fox right there. The glass building over there behind you is Morgan Stanley. And they all are taller than us, so they look down on us and were watching us build. Look around – it’s all people in suits that are well dressed–these aren’t tourists. I don’t want to stare at them, but if you look, they’re actually all working in the neighborhood and they’re coming here after work to blow off some steam and have a few drinks. I love that they’re my clientele.

It probably ensures a regular crowd too.

It does. But you have to give them great service. You have to give them great food and great cocktails, otherwise they’ll just go somewhere else. I mean it is New York. Survival of the fittest. Do you want to try something else? Another cocktail?

Before I can respond, a plate of the aforementioned Cajun chicken arrives. Freid turns to a couple of friends at a nearby table and grins.

How’d I do with the interview, guys?

Industry Insiders: Joey Morgan, Owner of Traffic Bar and WashOut

Native Long Islander Joey Morgan (left) is the man behind Traffic Bar Midtown East, Traffic Bar Hell’s Kitchen, and Montauk’s coolest summer destination, WashOut. How did this down-to-earth guy, who “didn’t set out to own more than one bar,” become the owner and operator of this successful trifecta? In short, he’s a salesman. Fresh from Indiana University, the spry young Morgan was working unhappily at a PR firm, when his boss told him he needed to go into sales. “And even though I’m in the hospitality industry now,” says Morgan, “it’s still sales. I’ve never forgotten that.” We had a chance to chat with Morgan and find out just what exactly it is that he’s selling, and how he’s able to sell it.

Did you always want to own a bunch of bars in New York?

I never did set out to open multiple venues. I had been in the hospitality industry since I graduated college, and one job led to the next before I had an opportunity to manage a venue, and realized I could do it on my own and make money for myself rather than work for someone else. I really was fortunate enough that I was mentored by someone who had been doing this years before I began, and he saw a lot of potential in me and took me under his wing to give me the confidence to do what I do.

How is your brother, Brian Morgan, involved?

Well my brother is more of an investing partner, and not involved on a day-to-day level. We do speak all the time and he shares his ideas with me whenever he feels is necessary, but he has a full-time job in real estate and I oversee and run the businesses with my other managing partner.

How is it being in business with a family member?

We’ve been very close since we were little kids, and work very well together. We were never competitive with each other and were raised in a way which has allowed us to evolve in our adult paths to always be there to support one another in every aspect of our lives. So it’s pretty easy for us to be in business together.

How do you go about opening a new place? Are you always on the lookout for a new venue? 

Opportunities always seem to come about and we always will listen to anything. The operation which we implement is a philosophy which we believe we can replicate anywhere. This business has many different variables and if the positives outweigh the negatives where we feel it’s something we can work with, we then crunch the numbers and take it from there.

You’ve managed to open two successful sports bars in Manhattan and a summer destination bar in Montauk, all of which have a lot of competition. What is it that sets your bars apart?

I don’t believe I have reinvented the wheel. In my opinion, it’s exceptional hospitality which is the key foundation to making bars successful. People seem to forget the meaning of the word "hospitality" and I take pride in making sure every person who walks through the doors leaves with a positive experience. The question is how. It’s up to me to create an environment which is fun and positive so that when they leave, it’s with the feeling that they would most certainly want to come back. I feel strongly when I say that I am only as good as the people who work for me. I’m not a micromanager. If the staff is happy and having fun, that energy will be felt by the customers, and that is what I think sets my bars apart from other places in the city – that I go out of my way to remind everyone what exactly we are doing every day – and that is catering to people who have come to enjoy the experience which we offer.

Part of that experience is sports, right? Traffic Bar Midtown East is the New York home for Indiana University Alumni. What exactly does that mean?

Basically, we show all of the IU games and do special events with the alumni. I try to recreate Bloomington in New York. But I don’t want them to just come in for a game and never come back again. I want them to feel like it’s their bar. Like they can come in just for a drink, or on a date.

Do you think the IU affiliation has helped you succeed?

The specific sports emphasis and Indiana affiliation which I have built is for sure a bonus, as is the weekly corporate business, and the weekend and nightlife business, etc. But the consistent and core ingredient which contributes to the success is, and will always be, hospitality.

You seem very passionate about your job. What’s an average day like for you? Is there anything you don’t like about it?

Every day is a different day for me. I mean I’m up at 6:30 every morning, but each day is a different day. I do not have an average 9-5 day, so you never know what to expect. You do the best you can to anticipate problems before they happen, but it’s dealing with the issues which come up on a daily basis, and how you handle them, which, at times, can be mentally draining that I’d say wears you down. I love what I do for a living. And having the opportunity to create something and watch it grow is something which I really do enjoy. I can’t pinpoint one thing over another, but I will say it’s a humbling experience to walk into a place and see the vision I once had in my mind happening right before my very eyes.

Industry Insiders: Jessica Meisels, President and CEO of Fingerprint Communications

To stand out in the competitive world of public relations, you can’t play it safe. Jessica Meisels knows this well, which is why her firm, Fingerprint Communications, is able get clients like sbe (which owns nightclubs like Hyde and Katsuya), Muscle Milk, and Virgin America into the hearts and minds of consumers around the world.

“I started Fingerprint 8 ½ years ago and we’ve grown tremendously since then,” she says. “But we’re still a boutique agency, and I’m extremely hands-on with our clients and staff.”  Among the agency’s most notable campaigns is a series of viral videos for Air New Zealand, which feature a puppet named Rico interacting with such stars as Snoop Dogg, David Hasselhoff, and Lindsay Lohan, the latter of whom was under house arrest at the time. 

Industry Insiders: Bobby Green, Designer of L.A.’s Top Themed Bars

When Bobby Green (center) transformed a space in Los Angeles into a log cabin-inspired bar in 1998, and quickly saw lines form to get inside, he knew he had hit on something huge.

“I realized that people don’t just want a cool bar with red lights and velvet chairs; they want more,” says Green, the man responsible for transforming L.A. nightlife into a highly thematic, immersive experience into another era. As the creative director of nightlife company 1933 Group, and a self-professed “old soul,” Green has since opened, among others, the Mexican grotto-inspired bar La Cuevita, the post-Prohibition Thirsty Crow, and most recently, the Savannah townhouse Sassafras Saloon, trucked in straight from Georgia.

“Sassafras is our biggest and grandest spot so far,” Green says. “We had more money and time to make the place perfect, so we shopped around Savannah to buy bits and pieces that really capture that lazy, relaxed Southern feeling.”

While Green is inspired by the movie set that is the city of Los Angeles, most of his ideas come straight from his favorite memories of growing up in Oklahoma, and skiing in New Mexico and Colorado every year. “I live in another era,” Green says. “There are so many places I’ve gone to and love, and all I want to do is recreate them, and let others have those incredible experiences.”