New Restaurants Turn To Potential Patrons To Open Their Doors

When the Tribeca restaurant The Elevens opens its doors this fall, it won’t be all thanks to an angel investor like Bobby De Niro, a partner in nearby Nobu, or a deep-pocketed industry player like Jeffrey Chodorow. First–time restaurateur Scott Kester raised a significant chunk of the $1 million capital needed to open the 65-seat restaurant and bar by offering neighbors the chance to become permanent “seatholders,” a position which entitles them to priority reservations and lifelong discounts. The cost? $500. “We thought it would be a good idea to build a community at the same time as raising capital,” explains Kester, who attracted 150 seatholders and hopes to enlist a few hundred more before the opening.

The Elevens is just the latest example of a restaurant turning to its (future) regulars to open its doors. As banks reduce access to large-scale loans and traditional restaurant investors take fewer risks, restaurateurs are looking to their communities and to a growing swath of micro- financing sites to raise money. They do it through Kickstarter, using the crowd-funding site to raise money in exchange for promised gifts and rewards. And they do it through Kickstarter emulators like Credibles, a site founded early this year that allows supporters to pre-pay for meals and services; Small Knot, which facilitates small loans from supporters in exchange for perks like private party invites or cooking lessons; and Lucky Ant, which solicits funds from neighbors living in the same communities as the businesses. “I can’t imagine spending money on a coffee shop in Portland, Oregon or Dallas, Texas,” says Lucky Ant founder and Lower East Side resident Jonathan Moyal, “but I’d be happy to fund one here.”

While Kester promised his neighbors seats at the table, that’s small fries compared to what Eric Fenster, the owner of Berkeley, California restaurant Gather, promised before it opened in 2010. Fenster and his partners raised the $2 million to open their eco-friendly restaurant (located inside a “green” community center) by recruiting 62 friends and neighbors as investors. Each committed a minimum of $5,000 [Berkeley!]. Though the return on investment for the restaurant industry is notoriously dicey, the cost of entry made it easier for first–time investors to get involved, and it offered the restaurant a built-in customer base. To raise an extra $20,000 in working capital right before the opening, the owners sold discounted pre-sale gift certificates. All the fundraising paid off. Soon after it opened in 2010, the restaurant won Esquire’s Best New Restaurant award.

Many chefs and budding investors find restaurants the perfect place to align their capital with their values. Anthony Myint, whose award–winning San Francisco restaurants Mission Chinese Food and Commonwealth both have formal partnerships with charities, included charitable donations as one of the perks during his successful $12,000 Kickstarter campaign for Commonwealth. He eventually raised about half the capital needed for the restaurant through the public sphere. Meanwhile, George Weld, the owner of Brooklyn breakfast favorite Egg, turned to Slow Money, a loosely organized group of investors focused on building sustainably minded businesses, when he started to raise money for his new restaurant Parish Hall. “Slow Money is more interested in making sure that we have a solid mission statement and actually do what we said we would do in terms of using local foods,” Weld explains. “It felt like a collaboration instead of trying to screw each other over.”

NYC Previews: Plaza Food Hall, Food Parc

Plaza Food Hall (Midtown West) – Plaza Hotel reinvention will include a bustling, Euro-style food court curated by still-available bachelor Todd English. ● Food Parc (Garment District) – Jeffrey Chodorow brings a time-traveling food court, with futuristic vibe courtesy of the designer of Blade Runner.

Matt Assante & Dustin Terry: You Live in Williamsburg? Me Too!

I met Matt Assante and Dustin Terry at Marquee. They are too much the face of the plague, for they are promoters who have gotten this “models bring bottle-buyers” thing down pat. At Marquee and the roof of Gansevoort and similar places, they line up a herd of models and book gentlemen suitors at nearby tables. The “bringing in the posse thing” is so pre-recession. In today’s club economy, in order to score big you need a percentage of the table sales to make ends meet. Matt and Dustin’s star rose just as the Dow Jones sank. Where most promoters bring 20 people or less, this dynamic duo are — in the words of one seasoned club entrepreneur — “killing it. They are one of the few teams that actually draw anymore, and their crowd actually spends money.” To those who say bottle service killed clubs, they are public enemies number one and two — or are they just a couple of nice guys trying to finish first?

You started off as promoters less than five years ago; you always had a good crowd, but now, is it your life? Matt, are you still modeling? Matt Assante: I am. I just got back from an audition. It’s more of an acting career now.

So is it acting, or is it clubs? Which way are you going? MA: Yeah — nightclubs, right.

And you too, Dustin? Dustin Terry: Yes.

So Matt, is the idea that if you hit a big role, you hit a big role? MA: Yeah, I think it can only help. If you become a household name, it can only help the restaurant or nightclub that you own.

You’re a team. What is the strategy behind having two of you? MA: Well, Dustin kind of introduced me to the business. I used to hang out at Marquee because Wass was my acting teacher, and one night I wound up dancing on top of Dustin’s table; he had started probably about five or six months before — and you know, I had a great night, and I partied with a lot of girls, and I woke up and I had a business card in my pocket. Soon after, I said, “Who the hell is this Dustin guy?” and he called me for dinner that night, and I kind of picked his brain about how this whole thing worked. He introduced me to [Marquee co-owner] Jason Strauss, and Jason liked my style and who I came around with. He saw something in me, and I started working separately from Dustin, but we kind of helped each other. We started on Tuesday and he would do Thursdays and Saturdays. We’d host the room on either side. But because we became best friends over a year and a half, we worked together, and even though we were hosting separate tables, we thought it would be better to put both of our groups together. We could weed out, trim some of that, and bring in a really A-list crowd. DT: It started off separate, but then, as we watched Noah Tepperberg and Jason Strauss, and you sit back, you observe, and they’re obviously the best in the industry, and you see what they do and how they operate, and it kind of morphed into that naturally, organically. My social network became friends with his social network. At first the crowds didn’t know each other, but eventually they got to know each other and it became one crowd.

Tell me why you stayed in town this summer and therefore are having smashing success at the Gansevoort. MA: Well, with the state of the economy in the country, it wouldn’t be lucrative for us to go into the Hamptons this summer. We were there for years, and there just wasn’t enough money for us to go out there this summer, with all of the expenses — vans and food for the girls, etc. So with that said, we didn’t want to lose our crowd to someone else — another competing promoter or competing nightclub. So we had a brainstorming session with Noah, and we said that we’d like to figure out a project that we could do here in the city that gives our people a summer environment. So Dustin and I have been traveling the south of France for the last three years, and we took some of the elements there from Nikki Beach, Sea Lounge, Monaco; and we tried to get investors together, we were scouting rooftops and things like that to open our own project that we could execute for this summer. We talked to Elon Kenchington, the operator at the Gansevoort, and he got us a meeting with hotel owner Michael Achenbaum, and we said, “Look. Here’s our plan. You have no revenue — or minimal revenue — on Saturdays and Sunday afternoon. We’re going to bring you a huge revenue stream every weekend from noon until 8pm on those two days.” And he said, “Very interested; let’s see.”

So you did your pitch, let me hear more. DT: Our pitch was this: With the economy, a lot of people aren’t taking shares in the Hamptons, so there’s money to be spent here. We want to create a summer destination right here in New York City, and we thought that was a great space — the Meatpacking is flourishing with brunches right now.

It’s really an old “can’t miss,” formula: You’ve got girls in bikinis on a rooftop in the middle of a hot weekend afternoon with liquor, and you don’t have to hardly know her to have a good time. Now the girls we normally see dressed very nicely in nightclubs are almost naked. Why go to the Hamptons? DT: It’s true. You don’t have to wait in a traffic jam. Tony Theodore from China Grill Management is involved, Jeffrey Chodorow is the operator of the rooftop; so after we gave the pitch to Michael, he said I have to talk to my partners. Jeffrey bought in his team, Dustin and I came, and we joined forces.

To many of my readers, it goes like this: Cockroach, mosquito, rat, leech, agent, then promoter. In many people’s eyes, the club promoter is one of the lowest forms in life. You’re perceived to be dumb guys who make a ton of money, going to the best parties in town with the hottest girls, and who the fuck are you anyway? Almost everything is true, by the way, but the part about not working hard … I want you to tell me how you service your models, your girls, and what that entails. DT: It goes beyond that. You are more than just a promoter, so to speak. It goes beyond bringing a few hot girls here and there, especially when you’re doing five or six nights a week or days in nights out.

So how do you cultivate these crowds — what are your strategies? DT: Well, we’ve been at Marquee for four and a half years, so just the vast social network that you have to have to do the same place for three/four nights a week, for that long, it’s difficult. I’m usually up 9:30, and out till 3am or 5am …

One of things you’re doing is scouting locations. So how do you get the girls to loyally follow you around? MA: To be frank, we have class and we have likeability — we’re friends. There are a lot of arrogant, cocky promoters who think they’re big shots — and some girls might like that for a minute, because they’re cool, but we’re true guys; we’re very good to our people. We have extreme likeability.

I can’t wait to reread what you just said. Danny A once told me that one of the keys to his success is he never ever hits on the girls in his group, because once he does that, it’s over. DT: Yeah, obviously you meet a girl, and you go on a date and things like that, but as far as just bouncing from one girl to the next as a lot of promoters do, that would make things awkward. MA: Yeah, when I first started, I would burn out girls — before I had my girlfriend. Because you’d be at a dinner table and then three of the girls there you’d either had a prior relationship or what … I learned quickly it’s not a good idea. DT: Going back to likeability, these days any 21-year-old model guy can get a promoter job, and there’s really no longevity in that. When we decided that this is what we wanted to do as a career — not promote, but eventually use that as a stepping stone into restaurants, bars, clubs and so forth. You realize that these personal relationships with people, if you burn them out — well, you only have one name. So by treating people the way they deserve to be treated, you will be successful. The women deserve to be treated in a certain way. You don’t realize how many people have said to me and Matt over the years, “You guys are so different; I’ve gone out with other promoters, and you’re not like the other promoters.” And I said, “Why does everybody talk down promoters?” And you start looking around, and you see how people act and how they look, and it’s basically that some people are a step above the common street thug. Then you look at Jason and Noah and see how they carry themselves; they’re always dressed well, they’re not wearing some stupid hat with tattoos on their necks. We try and follow their lead. DT: Noah and Jason are businessmen. For them, they hired Patrick — who comes from the back of the house operation, he has been very instrumental to their success — of course their relationship with Mark Packer, also an operator, has also been instrumental in terms of back of the house stuff.

You guys come from what we call the front of the house — the imaging, the face, the thing that people see. How do you plan on getting knowledge of the back of the house end of it? DT: I have a business and marketing background, three and a half years worth — I worked for Wenner Media, that’s Us Weekly, Men’s Journal, Rolling Stone, etc. I was a key person in their marketing department. I learned a lot from that. Obviously publishing is different from nightclubs, but you basically surround yourself with people that have a little bit more experience, and we’re both smart people and business in a sense is business no matter what field you’re in.

What else are you working on besides the roof? Still working at Marquee? MA: Yes, we just started over at Avenue. Mondays and Wednesdays. And we left Johnny Utah’s because we’re so busy right now and with the opening of Avenue — we just don’t have time to do all those things. DT: I don’t know if you were at Matt’s birthday or heard anything about it

No, sorry I missed it. MA: For my birthday, I had Oompa-Loompas, I had a stilt walker, a guy in a parrot suit. DT: We had a parrot mascot just dancing on the front seat the whole night … rode on the front seat of our limousine so everybody on the street sees this big orange thing.

Are you hip guys? MA: I like to think we are. DT: I live in Williamsburg.

Does that make you hip? DT: No, I’m joking — but I’m surrounded by a bunch of hip people — I thought it would be cool to live in a big artist loft and just do something different than a big, regular, glitzy-glamorous high-rise. I like the neighborhood — it’s quiet, it’s peaceful, that’s why I moved out there.

I’m asking because there are going to be a thousand hipsters who will read this and discount you guys because you’re promoters. You’re the enemies of the snarky set. MA: We have hipsters that hang out with us. We have models and artists and photographers — we have a little bit of everything. DT: A handful of them are my neighbors, actually. You’re out there and you meet someone and they go, “You live in Williamsburg? Me too!” One other point I want to make is that with a lot of these big, high-profile clubs — Matt and I don’t take ourselves too seriously, and I think that’s a nice element that we bring, because we’re not afraid to walk down the street with a guy in a parrot costume. That’s fun, and I think people pick up on that, and just because you’re spending five to ten thousand dollars in a club doesn’t mean that you have to take yourself too seriously. And the wealthy clientele that we hang out with and service appreciate that, as do the image people.

Photo: Patrick McMullan

Industry Insiders: Eddie Dean, Pacha Honcho

The owner of the flagship Pacha in New York on international clientele, the rough lifestyle required for nightlife connoisseurs, and flushing out the phonies.

When you’re not partying at Pacha, where are you? I always find myself at Sushi Samba on Seventh Avenue. I love the outdoor roof. It’s a great place to entertain. I’m forever hosting people from South America and Spain there. They treat us well, and the food and the vibe is great. Asia de Cuba has great service, great food, and a great energy. I like Henry’s End in Brooklyn at the end of Henry Street. The owners are real wine connoisseurs … they search the globe and feature five reds that are unique. Just had a great meal at Dovetail, another great spot.

How did you end up here? I knew I wanted to have my own business, but I didn’t know it would be a nightclub. The opportunity presented itself. We put together a business plan to open this little bar in Bay Ridge, and then we owned about 15 places. It’s a lot of late hours, a lot of grueling work, but it’s what I do. I have moments when I’m tired and want to do something different — and then I realize that I love the people, the experience of making people happy, of employees doing well. We’re the biggest nightclub in New York, and everybody’s trying to take us out, so you need a strong constitution to come in every day and keep on fighting. It’s an exhausting battle. I was 24 when I opened my first place, and 28 when I opened another couple of places. People sometimes ask me my secret: I think long term and don’t take short cuts.

Who do you admire in the hospitality industry? The first thing I think of is longevity, not the flashy guys who are in for six months. I think of Jeffrey Chodorow and Steve Hanson. They’re successful with different restaurants with different menus in different neighborhoods. Promoters who have been successful owners include Noah Tepperberg and Jason Strauss from Marquee and Mark Packer of Tao. And then there are people who get into this business for the wrong reasons and muck things up.

What’s a positive trend you’ve noticed in nightclubs? I think what’s going on now is economical. The economy is going to separate the men from the boys. Over the past couple of years, people have become so money-driven that they don’t care about quality, just about how much they’re going to make before they produce anything. So, as tough as the economy is, it will flush out the phonies. The strong will survive. It will bring the quality up because there will be more good people working in fewer places. We’re making adjustments here, but we’ve buckled up and made some tough decisions. We have a viable product — a world-class nightclub — and DJs around the world want to play in a successful place more than ever.

And negative things? We don’t have enough unity in nightlife. Some people feel that it would compromise relationships, and others feel it’s getting too close to the competition. There’s too much at stake not to unify. We would get a unified voice to get the positive things that we contribute to the city to overcome the negative image. People are quick to report negativity. If there’s an arrest, if there’s a problem somewhere, it gets reported — and it’s really not fair, it’s a one-sided story.

What do you love about your joint? There’s nothing better than to be here on a Friday or Saturday night to hear the accents from around the world. More than half of the people here on New Year’s Eve were from Europe and South America. They came to celebrate at Pacha . That’s the greatest compliment of all. My doorman speaks four different languages, just to accommodate the questions from people who don’t speak English.

What is something that people might not know about you? I’m obsessed with sports. I’m a big Mets fan, but if Derek Jeter was in the club, I’d love it — he doesn’t take short cuts either. I could watch sports day and night. I watch ESPN six nights in a row. I love college sports, but right now none of my teams have had the best year. But I’m a fan, so I’m eternally optimistic. Ballplayers will come in here, and I’ll be introduced to them. I’ll tell them about their careers because I’m a statistics nut, and sometimes it spooks them.

What’s on the horizon? I’ve had several places over the years, but Pacha is a full-time project, and anything going forward will be more and more Pacha stuff to expand the brand throughout North America. The economy means we’re proceeding with caution. I take it very seriously. It’s a big responsibility, and we’re doing everything we can to keep from laying off people.

The Top 10 Industry Insiders of 2008

Our Industry Insiders series has covered the personalities that drive nightlife, dining, hotels, and related scenes throughout the world. We’ll continue targeting more movers and shakers throughout 2009, but from the past year, here are the ten people who generated the most fervent reader reaction (both love and — the other thing).

10. Amy Sacco – She may no longer rule New York nightlife with an iron guestlist, but she still has plenty of admirers. 9. Richie Notar – A hometown boy made good, from shirtless busboy at Studio 54 to white-tie hotelier to the stars. 8. Michael Achenbaum – The man behind the Hotel Gansevoort has been known to draw the attention of a hater or two.

7. Lionel Ohayon – His design firm is responsible for the look of many cutting-edge venues. 6. Remi Laba – The Meatpacking District maestro On boring models, the grub at Pastis, and bringing down the house (music). 5. Jeffrey Chodorow – The owner of China Grill, Asia de Cuba, Kobe Club, Ono, and other esteemed global eateries dishes on Ian Schrager, disses on Rocco DiSpirito, 4. Derek & Daniel Koch – The day-party twins build an unlikely empire. 3. Ivanka Trump – Donald’s diamond daughter describes her new hotel ventures. 2. Rachel Uchitel – From losing her fiancée in the 9/11 attacks to running VIPs at some of the hottest joints in New York and elsewhere. 1. Aalex Julian – The infamous Tenjune doorman trashed his foes and became the poster boy for anti-doorman malice.

Industry Insiders: Jeffrey Chodorow, Fusion Fan

Jeffrey Chodorow, owner of China Grill, Asia de Cuba, Kobe Club, Ono, and other esteemed global eateries, dishes on Schrager, disses on DiSpirito, then row-row-rows his colorful boat ashore. Point of Origin: I was born in the Bronx, but my father died the year I was born, so my mother and I moved to Miami. I grew up in Miami Beach, where we lived with her sister. They were both manicurists in a Cuban barbershop, and they used to go to Havana for the weekend — which, incidentally, is how Asia de Cuba eventually came to be. I opened China Grill because I knew the Asian and Cuban pantry, so it seemed like a natural. I grew up very poor in a very wealthy Miami area where we went through school drills, hiding under our desks during the Cuban missile crisis. Some friends built a bomb shelter in their property which was nicer than our apartment! This was before Castro came in.

Occupations: With my very logical legal background, I got seduced by the restaurant business in Los Angeles. I was supposed to buy a football team, and I met this guy at Spago. The next day, I was having a meeting with the bank that had the stadium in Foxboro, and we stopped at Chinois on Main in Santa Monica. Next thing I knew, I was back in New York, opening China Grill. The guy who had the lease where I wanted the restaurant at 20th and 6th reneged, and another friend who was a broker had a space available immediately under the CBS building at 6th and 52nd. I hated it. It was shaped like a dumbbell, a big barn with a narrow corridor, but the architect said we could make it work. I made two decisions that, in hindsight, were the major factors in the success of China Grill: I moved the entrance from 52nd to 53rd, across from MoMA and the Hilton. At that time, all the customers came from the Upper East Side for the nighttime business. All my friends in the restaurant business said “Four restaurant have failed there,” and I was obligated to be open for lunch. I figured the way to get people in there for dinner was to exempt the first six months from lunch, so when it opened, it only opened for dinner. All the people at CBS complained! I needed to force people to come for dinner, and eventually opened for lunch.

Everybody in the industry speculates that you and Ian Schraeger met in jail. Yes? No? This whole episode is a weird story-in-a-story. By 1987, Ian Schraeger and Steve Rubell were already out of the Morgans Hotel and into the Royalton; their financiers were doing a building up on 6th Avenue. They were supposed to do the restaurant with Brian McNally, but they couldn’t get a liquor license (Brian didn’t have any money at the time), so they wanted to meet me. They came and asked if I’d like to do 44 in the Royalton for them. I met Steve first. We share a passion for Twizzlers licorice, and there was a jar in his office. Then I met Ian. They both told me the story of how the Royalton was going to be the next generation of a social gathering. The whole thing sort of seduced me into the mix. It was like oil and water, but they put up all of the money for everything but the liquor license. I don’t know why this was, but Ian said, “We’ll put up all the money for the hotel, and you put up all of the money to open the restaurant (payroll, graphics, etc).” There was a hitch. They wanted me to buy a Phillipe Starck hostess stand, a kind of Winged Victory of burled walnut that was tapered from the top down. It cost $30,000. Ian said, “Look, Jeff, if you want to do the deal, you’ve got to buy the stand.” It was impractical, there was no top, there was no drawer space, there was no place for the phone — I had to put Velcro on it — but it was a gorgeous piece of furniture. I put the stand next to the hotel column, so when you enter the hotel, you look down the blue carpet and see this beautiful piece of furniture.

China Grill in Manhattan was on fire, too and before long, Ian called me, “Nobody said the idea wouldn’t travel; how about you do the space in Morgans Hotel? I know it’s a bad location, but I’ll give you a fabulous deal.” I only made one condition after the Royalton: I wasn’t enjoying it because I felt pigeonholed to do a hotel restaurant. I called Ian and told him that I wanted to do a restaurant in a hotel, not a hotel restaurant. The deal was done. Jefferson Carey was my first chef of Asia de Cuba, and I felt the menu had to be a certain type. At the time there was no fusion, so it was revolutionary in those days. But I thought if I could create demand from outside the hotel, it would work. I was set on Chino Latino restaurants. He was amazed. He had just gotten engaged, and his fiancé was Cuban. Later, the New York Times said the newest thing was a Nuevo Latino restaurant — mine. Meanwhile, Brian had opened in Ian’s Delano in Miami, and it was doing good business, but doing no money. So Ian asked me to take it over in 1996. It became Asia de Cuba.

Any non-industry projects in the works? I would say, I’m interested mostly in food related things, my other big interest is IICA contemporary art at [alma mater] Penn, and I have donated a reasonable amount of money to the school. My son was also at Penn and is interested in contemporary art, plus I thought it was an opportunity to do something. Also, there are a lot of creative people out there … great cooks who aren’t chefs. Ask Rocco [DiSpirito], one of the contestants on Dancing with the Stars!

Favorite Hangs: My favorite hangouts are not all in New York. I love some of the Cuban places in Miami like Yakosan, a place in North Miami Beach, a Japanese tapas bar with all small plates. I like quirky things. They also have spaghetti bolognese; all of the sushi chefs hang out there. I like Versailles; Ciochi, the place on Sixth and Collins, a Cuban hole-in-the-wall for the Cuban sandwiches and black bean soup, and the Latin American Cafe. In New York, the Cuban hangouts like Park Blue with its list of half-bottles of wine and phenomenal drinks; Sakagura on 43rd between 2nd and 3rd, on the north side of the street, in a white office building … on the floor there’s a little sign for Sakagura. You walk past the front desk to the fire exit and down the stairs to the wooden door that leads to the sake bar. No sushi, just small plates of Japanese food, across from Sushi Yasuda. In the basement, it’s all surprise. I like the old style places. I love Dan Tana’s in LA. I love Nanni’s on 46th. Old time places … they’re not trying to do anything modern. There are certain dishes on the menu where the food is great. They’re hangouts I gravitate to — the old stuff. I try all the new stuff.

Industry Icons: I think the reason my relationship with Ian works so well is that we had so much mutual respect for each other. He gave me the ability to think beyond what I knew. I realized when I got back together with him that if you looked at it objectively, it would make no sense, but he was so successful that you couldn’t pick it apart as to what made it so successful. When I opened Asia de Cuba in Morgans Hotel, he wanted to send out a postcard. So I get the mock-up, and the front is like a beautiful photo of Morgans with three doors, a great postcard. The estimated price was $80,000 — and it was 1997! I almost fell off my chair. That was why our relationship worked: It may not have made sense to me, but if he felt passionate, I respected his vision and he respected my business acumen. Ian Schrager and Drew Nieporent, we’re all battling the same battles. I have tremendous respect for them, and I don’t view it as competition. I feel that we’re just up against the same thing.

Who are some people you’re likely to be seen with? I think I’m kind of a private person. I’d rather spend time with my family than anybody. Of course, we socialize, but there’s nobody in particular that I spend an inordinate amount of time with.

Projections: Right now, I’m very focused on international, and I want to do India and China. I just got back from Monte Carlo. It’s such an international place, and you wouldn’t know there was a global community there.

What are you doing tonight? Last night, I took my wife to Georgica Pond for three hours with lobster. I was on the phone the entire day and I was actually impressed that I could row that far! But I was an Eagle Scout and had a canoeing badge. Tonight, I’m having dinner with my eldest son who graduated from Wharton last year, and is going to law school. I’ve offered him a job! We opened the Kobe Beach Club in the Hamptons next to the Lily Pond, and he decided to open Kobe Hot Dogs! When I was doing Ono, he was closely watching! He went out and got the equipment, brought the chef and the relishes and these special iced teas and a papaya drinks … he’s a bright kid. I have a 19-year-old who wants to be a sushi chef. He’s at his first year at Boston University. A few years ago he wanted an apprenticeship in Tokyo in a sushi restaurant in the Chanel building. So being a foodie has really paid off for the whole family.

Industry Insiders: Mark Grossich, Uptown Gentleman

Mark Grossich is the refined CEO of Hospitality Holdings, owner of elegant haunts like the World Bar, the Campbell Apartment, Bookmarks and Madison & Vine at the Library Hotel, and the Carnegie Club. He tells us of his mission to bring the sophisticated dram back to New York, holds forth on coke spoon hijinx, and caps off the night with a Shirley Temple.

Point of Origin: I’m from the Midwest, raised in Chicago. I did a lot of things before I came into the hospitality business, like washing the pots and pans in my family’s neighborhood restaurants when I was about 12 — casual places, the names of which I can’t even remember. My background is in marketing, and I have a masters degree from Northwestern, which is how I got into the business. I owned an advertising agency, a modeling agency, and a public relations agency, another owner of which wanted to partner up for a cocktail lounge; he found the location, and I founded what would become Hudson Bar and Books. It was such a success that I transitioned out of the PR business and into upscale cocktail lounges full time.

You also transitioned out of Chicago and into New York. Where I’ve been into it for quite a while now, like 15 years, and have done some interesting things. I built places I’m comfortable going to; it’s nice to have an elegant lounge to go to. They were absent from the New York scene for decades until we brought them back. Lounges then became a part of things here. Hudson Bar and Books was unique 10 years ago … we put sofas where barstools used to be. We had a dress code, so the clientele tended to be better dressed, more sophisticated — and they wanted a more sophisticated experience than dribbling beer on their running shoes. Not only did people read the books — they wanted to buy them! Someone would arrive, pick up a book or one of the newspapers, and read while waiting to meet somebody. Afterwards we created Beekman Bar and Books (that became the first Cigar Bar) and Carnegie Club.

But at the World Bar (in the Trump World Towers, opposite the United Nations), the barstools are so high you have to have hiking equipment to reach them. The Brazilian designer envisioned a stand-up bar, but women don’t’ want to climb the heights. My Portuguese and his English resulted in a particularly high bar, but that’s on our list to change. We did the Patio on East 47th Street, where the initial operators had a coffee bar. We served Moet, instead. The community approached me about taking it over, so I bought the license and got a liquor license. The park district assured us that we were a shoe-in to re-operate there, but we lost the space to operators whose only experience was failure. I have a penchant for the city’s landmarks, so when I was approached by the MTA (the landlord for Grand Central Station) to resurrect the Campbell Apartment, I took a look. We had the right concept for the place, but you should have seen it! The first thing I wanted to do was restore the space, bring it back to the 1920s. (Campbell was one of the money men for Commodore Vanderbilt’s terminus: he took the “corner office” on 42nd and Vanderbilt as repayment). The concept resonated with them, and with the hundreds of millions they were spending restoring Grand Central, another mil was a drop in the bucket. Now, people look at it and say “Wow!”, but the place was a wreck. The leaded glass windows were boarded up; the massive ductwork was hanging from what had been an elegant ceiling; there were workers’ cubicles all over the place. We hired the guys who paint federal buildings here and put them to work as if they were painting the Sistine Chapel, on their backs. We asked Mina Campbell (no relation to the original Campbell) who worked with Mark Birley on his clubs in London to do the restoration we wanted. We matched the colors and patterns of the original room to create an elegant space with the best of service, a quiet space inside city-within-a-city that is Grand Central Station. We attracted a significant destination crowd who wanted to take a train back in time.

Bet you wish you could get your hands on the Cloud Club. I wish. I was up in the Chrysler Building years ago where the Cloud Club was (railroad magnates made an exclusive club at the top of the building where Phillip Johnson’s architectural office is now), but the closest thing we could create in the neighborhood was the Bookmarks rooftop lounge in the Library Hotel at 41st and Madison. We were so successful at it that the owner asked us to take over the restaurant, so now we’re doing Madison & Vine. We’ve resurrected the wine bar, much as we brought back the upscale cocktail lounge. Now it’s time for a renaissance for the wine bar.

Any non-industry projects in the works? We do a lot of charity events, and I’m on the board of the Vanderbilt YMCA and the Grand Central Partnership. The hospitality business is an excellent conduit to all kinds of other businesses because it’s not just a business, but a lifestyle. Because of the World Bar’s proximity to the UN, there are a lot of charity events there. In fact [an artist] has a kind of melt-down fundraiser there, usually on the first Tuesday of the month where she melts weapons into works of art. It’s not like the old days when you were constantly out at every venue. Fortunately, we have 100 employees now, and longstanding people in senior management, so there’s more time to devote to good causes. There’s nothing like starting something, but now it’s exciting in a more businesslike way. Now, it’s a significant entity, so priorities change. We’re always looking for the next great space.

Favorite Hangs: My places, of course! I’m having dinner tonight at Madison & Vine for business, and pleasure, and I’m talking to somebody about a new space over drinks at the Campbell Apartment. But I don’t really drink; it’s business.

Who are your industry icons? The late Mark Birley in England with a long track record of Annabelle’s and the Carlton Club and, of course, Mark’s club. I have tremendous respect for Ian Schraeger — not only has he been a visionary, but he has exhibited impeccable taste. Um, like the “Man-in-the-Moon” with a tasteful coke spoon at Studio 54? It was a great idea at the time, of course both he and Steve Rubell went to jail.

And it’s rumored that he met his next partner, Jeffrey Chodorow, in prison, no? My antennae went up on that one. It’s a rumor everybody’s heard, but Schraeger has transitioned from the hottest place in town to soignee hotels and residential real estate.

Who are some of the people you’re likely to be seen with? Out and about with my gorgeous wife, Elizabeth, and our teenage daughter, Katherine, who is not old enough to drink anything but Shirley Temples. I suppose that having a parent in this business is either a deterrent or an encouragement. Her classmates think it’s cool that we had her Sweet 16 party at the Campbell Apartment.

Projections: More and more we’re actively looking for the next great space, the next best place for an upscale cocktail lounge, the next wine bar. We’d like to strike more management deals with hotels to operate their lounges, and we’re looking through the softening economy to buy existing property that needs help. We’ve become pretty good at this business through the years, and businesses with a lot of vitality that have potential, but are badly run or have cash flow issues, are really attractive to us. I’m living my dream. I love coming to work because I love what I do. My staff is exceptional … I have busboys who have worked with me for 10 years. It’s nice to be able to offer good people opportunities they couldn’t find elsewhere.

What are you doing tonight? Meeting a new possible landlord for cocktails and meeting a possible business situation for dinner. And because my wife and daughter are in Spring Lake, New Jersey for the summer, and as I’m not much of a drinker, I’ll cap off the night with … a Shirley Temple.

BlackBook and Hennessy GDR Party at Kobe Club Miami!

Renowned restaurateur Jeffrey Chodorow—who helms over 30 chic restaurants throughout the world—hosted an exclusive BlackBook and Hennessy GDR event at Kobe Club Miami. Media types and beach glitterati packed the stunningly-designed hotspot while sipping on delicious custom Hennessy cocktails such as Hennessy Sidecar, Hennessy Mojito and Hennessy Ginger. DJ Erok warmed up the decks for celebrated DJ Irie who laid down beats, keeping guests dancing well into the night.

Openings: Kobe Beach Club, East Hampton

imageThough it’s anyone’s guess how many amidst the flesh-baring Hamptons throngs would even dare risk a flab hangover by gorging on the tasty slabs of Wagyu beef that Kobe Club is famous for, it’s hard to imagine a more scorching scene this summer. Restaurant master-of-the-universe Jeffrey Chodorow brings his quasi-samurai-themed temple of excess to Kobe Beach Club in the former Flirt space, which is now white-tiled, dramatically sky-lit, and complete with those signature hanging swords that so exhilaratingly threaten to drop down to slice and dice a host of ephemeral celebs. The restaurant shares terra firma and a, um, helicopter pad with glammy nightclub Lily Pond, so the fabulosity with hover incessantly at near lethal levels. Meaty!