EMM Group Opens The General, A Sure-Fire Hit

I’ve was invited to the friends and family opening of The Generalthe new restaurant from EMM Group at Bowery and Spring. EMM is Eugene Remm, Mark Birnbaum, and Michael Hirtenstein. They are the force behind Abe & Arthur’s, CATCH, CATCH Roof, CATCH Miami, Lexington Brass, SL, SL East, Tenjune, Chandelier Room, Revel Nightlife, FINALE, and Bow, and lots of other stuff. Bow and Finale are the other parts of the Spring and Bowery space that once housed Boulevard and Crash Mansion. Executive chef Hung Huynh of Top Chef fame offers up modern Asian cuisine in a red-chaired gilded wallpapered paradise. All the inside-info is here.

Opening up this time of year is interesting. Most operators look to open in the early or late stages of spring or fall, and with 300 seats, there will be a lot of kinks to be worked out. Groups like EMM have fewer kinks than most.  Opening now allows the place to hit its stride as the nice weather and affluent snowbirds return. They can do no wrong in my book. The General stretches the Bowery strip from its previous above-Houston Street border where joints like Daniel Boulud’s DBGB, Gemma, Peels and many others serve neighborhood residents and well-heeled visitors. This is not the Bowery of my youth. Little Steve Lewis trivia: my great uncle was one of the famed Bowery Boys.

Most clubs reported near-normal attendees for the week after New Year’s but much lower revenues. People went out but seemed to be tapped or burnt out.  For all except for the very top operators, New Year’s Eve is a loss when you account for the naturally slower nights preceding it and the after-effects. I’m still beat up from all the rushing around, and Christmas bills are still being paid. Getting me out requires special coaxing.

Many people obviously get terribly drunk on New Year’s Eve and try hard to slow it down for a couple of weeks. Then there are those resolutions which often include a step back from the boozing. My resolutions always end in a vow to break all my resolutions ASAP. We are still enjoying tourist dollars, but those will fade away as vacation bucks tend to fly to warmer climates this time of year. The cold keeps people in and, well, you get the idea.

EMM group is way ahead of this game. They have a built-in clientele that’s enamored with all their other joints. CATCH is still more than killing it, and the word "NEW" is always a sure draw. The General, a NEW offering from an established hospitality group enters as a sure thing. I’ll keep you posted.

EMM Group’s Sweetest Weapon: Pastry Chef Thiago Silva

Arriving ravenous to an interview with a renowned pastry chef was a bad idea. I knew it the moment Thiago Silva – the 28-year-old Brazilian executive pastry chef behind all OF EMM Group’s restaurants –  placed a massive, glazed green tea donut and mini honey jar before me, and uttered three little words: “It’s cream-filled.” With that, I was off to the races, cutting open the donut, scooping up the green tea mascarpone cream, drizzling the honey all over its lemon honeycomb-topped self, and leaving no crumb behind. Thiago wasn’t fazed. It’s most patrons’ natural response to the signature dessert at The General – EMM’s newest hotspot: an Asian-inspired bar, restaurant, and downstairs jazz lounge.

But at The General, the doughnut doesn’t stop there; the Bowery spot has become known for Thiago’s most nostalgic, breakfast creation: cereal-topped doughnuts. Yes, doughnuts topped with Fruity Pebbles, Cocoa Puffs, or Cinnamon Toast Crunch, and filled with their respective cereal creams. “A lot of people think I was high when I came up with the idea,” Thiago says. “But I wanted a breakfast item, so I combined my favorite breakfast cereals with my really great doughnut recipe.”

The doughnut recipe is another wildfire idea Thiago’s concocted that’s become EMM Group’s top-ordered dessert across all their restaurants. On the sweets menus of their spots CATCH NY, CATCH Miami, Lexington Brass, and Abe & Arthur’s, you’ll find one signature doughnut. For CATCH Miami, it’s their key lime doughnut. At The General, it’s green tea. For the rest it changes, with flavors like pumpkin and peaches and cream.

But Thiago – the man who grew up in Astoria and ironically bellowed “Feed me, feed me, Seymour” in his star-turn as the man-eating house plant in his high school’s production of Little Shop of Horrors  – brings more than doughnuts and plated desserts to NYC. He’s also a master of cakes, known for creating outrageous cakes for EMM’s clients, most notably a four-foot-by-four-foot 16th birthday cake with a confetti cannon, fog machine, and lights. Suddenly, the chef doubles as an electrician.

“I googled how to do the electrical and wood work for the cake,” says Thiago. “And that’s what I love about making cakes – you never make the same cake twice, you never know what kind of order you’ll get. It’s a collaboration with the client, and you’ve got to deliver and make it memorable.”

Thiago, who’s had no formal culinary training, has made lots of memorable cakes for folks you might recognize: Brooke Shields, three cakes for Sofia Vergara, and the entire New York Giants squad, the day after they won the Super Bowl.

“That was the best, they’re my team,” says Thiago. “And Sofia is funny; she told everyone at the party that she stayed up all night making the cake.”

But nowadays the chef is staying up all night for a whole new reason: he and his wife have just had a baby boy. Full name: James Brenden Silva (adorable video here).

“He’s my favorite kind of sweet,” Thiago says. “Him, and tiramisu.”

The General

Learn more about chef Thiago Silva, & follow Bonnie on Twitter here

EMM Group’s FINALE Brings The Edge Back to NY Nightlife

FINALE, the long-awaited EMM Group entry at 199 Bowery on Manhattan’s Lower East Side, has finally opened – and it’s a game changer. This is a place created by a well-heeled, bottle sales-based group with creativity at its core. To those who pooh-pooh bottle service and blame it (and Rudy Giuliani) for all the terrible things that have ever happened to New York nightlife, I say pooh-pooh to you. Without bottle service, burgeoning rents, insurance, and salaries would have buried nightlife. The problem is that clubs banking for big bucks have catered to the bores with black cards, a scene that’s unbearable to the artistic set. FINALE embraces the downtown scene with performance types on staff, and bartenders and waiters dressed and ready to perform at the drop of a beat.

For far too long, entertainment in major nightclubs has consisted of little more than a forced smile from a wannabe model rushing through the crowd holding a fiery stick while a DJ plays tracks the rich dudes and their lady friends love to hear over and over again. But FINALE offers the hope that, in an effort to set themselves apart from the pack, operators will once again employ creative types to define their brands.

Back in 2007, The Box thought outside the box with its Did-I-just-see-that? brand of entertainment. For some, it went too far, but The Box is still there, and Sleep No More and other nightlife fringe concepts are bringing in creatives and spenders in equal measure. Their devotion to pushing downtown artistic programming has been justly rewarded. FINALE offers an opportunity for the public to expect even more. If it continues its success, other operators will follow its lead, and maybe the suits and ties will no longer dictate club programming. From my experience, once you start traveling towards the edge, a great deal of the public becomes interested and wants more.

EMM provides balance as they balance their bottom line. The artful mixing of downtown with the swells has worked for eons and is working at FINALE now. Plus, having a management team that’s in tune with the times helps.

Some words from the founders:

“Nightlife in New York is a bit stale at the moment—nothing new or different has opened in several years,” says co-owner Mark Birnbaum. “Both the timing and the new Lower East Side location of FINALE are perfect to attract new customers who don’t go to the Meatpacking District or Chelsea to eat and party, while bringing many of our current clientele along with us.”

“Moving down to the Bowery puts us in a unique position,” adds partner Eugene Remm. “Just as Bungalow 8 emerged on West 27th Street, and Lotus took root in the Meatpacking, we hope to be the first to bring an entirely new concept to the area. With this project, we break away from our current mold and create something entirely new on all fronts, from our music format to the location itself and the ways in which we can creatively program the entire space.”

Whether the big spenders will continue to be comfortable heading that far downtown to experience an increasingly weird mix of entertainment—and whether the creative set will keep emerging from their Brooklyn lofts to lend artistic authenticity to the nightlife venue—is far from certain. But with success stories like Abe & Arthur’s, CATCH, SL, and Tenjune in their portfolio, EMM’s Birnbaum, Remm, and partner Michael Hirtenstein are just the men to turn the mix into magic.

Industry Insiders: Eugene Remm, Mark Birnbaum, Michael Hirtenstein, & Hung Huynh

It looks like it’s going to be a while before Eugene Remm, Mark Birnbaum, and Michael Hirtenstein (seated, left to right) get a vacation. While they’re already busy running such white-hot New York nightspots as Tenjune and SL, the EMM Group partners now have two exciting new restaurants to oversee. The first, Lexington Brass, is a stylish New American bistro in the Hyatt 48 hotel that serves three meals a day, seven days a week, along with signature cocktails and craft beers. The second, Catch, is poised to become nothing less than Manhattan’s seafood Mecca, with multiple levels, a glass-enclosed rooftop lounge, an outdoor terrace, and some major firepower in the kitchen courtesy of Top Chef Season 3 winner Hung Huynh (standing).

“Catch represents a dream come true,” says Remm. “It keeps our company expanding while maintaining the integrity and standards of our other properties.” The restaurant fits the Meatpacking District to a tee, while offering an experience that is at once comfortable and invigorating. “From the outside, Catch fits in with the industrial aesthetic of the neighborhood,” adds Birnbaum.  “Inside it’s such a warm, glowing space – people have raved about the interior, and, most importantly, they’ve loved the food.”  As striking as the design is, it’s the people that complete the experience. “It’s a beautiful space, and we have the staff and team to do it justice,” says Hirtenstein. But what can the dining public expect from a trio with a background in nightlife? “When we opened Abe & Arthur’s there was a lot of chatter that we were just club kids, and that we would be one-hit wonders in the restaurant world,” explains Remm. “That just motivated us to put out an exceptional product. Our food is excellent, but our client base wants more than that, and we know how to deliver it.” For his part, Executive Chef Huynh is in his element. “For as long as I can remember, all I ever wanted to do was cook, and every day I’m striving for perfection,” he says. “I turned down a lot of opportunities in search of this. This is my dream kitchen.”

Tell me a little bit about your background. Where were you born, where did you grow up, and what kinds of things were you into as a kid?

Remm: I was born in Russia and immigrated with my parents, first to Queens and then to Bergen County, New Jersey, where I grew up.  I’ve always loved sports – basketball and tennis in particular.  And I’ve had a passion for music from a very early age.

Birnbaum: I was born and raised in Long Island. As a kid I liked driving go-karts and playing tennis.   And I played video games … Constantly.

Hirtenstein: I was born and raised in New York City and hope to never leave!

Huynh: I was born in Vietnam, where I lived until I was 9 years old.  I then moved to America, to Pittsfield, Massachusetts. For as long as I can remember, all I ever wanted to do was cook.  It was the only thing that interested me. I was always cooking and eating, from the time I was five years old in Vietnam. I would cut myself every day.  

What kinds of jobs led to what you’re doing today?

Remm: I started out in public relations and promotions, working at Harrison & Schriftman here in New York. From there I went on to work at Midnight Oil, where I was the promotions coordinator for their properties.  I then landed at B.R. Guest Restaurant Group where I was lead of promotions and operations for Level V, among other spaces.  It was after that that I joined forces with Mark to form EMM Group and open our first club, Tenjune.   

Birnbaum: While in college, I ran a club in Ithaca, New York.  I also promoted parties in NYC from the time I was 17 years old to roughly 22.  I tried my hand in insurance but left at age 23 to return to nightlife, opening my first club in 2002 and starting EMM Group with Eugene in 2005, when we pitched W Hotels for the bar deal at the then-under-development W Hotel in Hoboken, New Jersey.   

Hirtenstein: My background is in telecommunications and real estate – which I still do to this day.  I came to know Mark and Eugene as they were first making a name for themselves in hospitality.  I knew they were on their way to building an empire so when I was invited to be a part of it I happily came on board.  

Huynh: When I came to America my parents had a restaurant – I started working there, washing dishes, when I was 9 years old.  Then I started filleting fish and slowly getting acquainted with all aspects of the kitchen.

Tell me about Lexington Brass and Catch. Where did the idea to open them come from, and what was the process like? Do they represent a dream you’ve had for a long time? 

Remm:   With Lexington Brass and Catch we sought to add something new and different both to the hospitality landscape and to our own company portfolio.  We don’t want a customer coming into Abe & Arthur’s one night, and then feeling as though they don’t need to check out Lexington Brass or Catch.  Lexington Brass is a three meal period bistro and Catch is a seafood restaurant with a raw bar. Each place offers a different experience, but with the same standards of service.  With Catch in particular, we saw the space open up seven months after opening Abe & Arthur’s.  We love the Meatpacking District,  we work here, we live here, and we knew there wasn’t a seafood restaurant of note in the neighborhood.  We wanted to bring in something different.

Birnbaum:  Lexington Brass and Catch are very different from each other – Lexington Brass is a 100-seat brasserie on the ground floor corner of the new Hyatt hotel  in midtown that serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner 7 days a week.  Catch is a much bigger operation – three floors, 275 seats, a glass-enclosed rooftop lounge and outdoor terrace.  We jumped on both spaces as soon as they were presented to us.  We knew they were the perfect locations for us to create new concepts and expand without having to get on an airplane to do it.   

Are you having fun?

Remm:  I Love what I do. I get to spend my days working with my best friends and colleagues, with all of us working towards the same goal.  We’re willing to take enormous financial risks to keep doing what we do.  There are always challenges – I encounter something new every day.

Birnbaum: Lots of fun! If we didn’t love what we did it would be impossible to do this job.  The things I enjoy most are working with ICRAVE to design and build out new spaces, and brainstorming with our team to come up with original concepts for people to enjoy.  The biggest hurdle has been dealing with community boards and finding the perfect spaces.   

Hirtenstein: Yes I’m having a great time.  My background is in telecommunications and my other current endeavors focus mainly on real estate, so anything having to do with EMM Group is a nice change of pace – I enjoy being a part of this world. 

What do you do to relax when you’re not working?

Remm: Music is my passion. I have a DJ booth in my apartment and it’s something I take real pleasure in doing. I love to work out. Boxing and spinning at Flywheel are so therapeutic to maintain a balance with all that we have going on.

Birnbaum: I love to travel when I can – and I try to unwind a little during the summers and enjoy weekends with friends at our house in the Hamptons.   

Hirtenstein: I am extremely active –a healthy lifestyle is important to me.  I swim, golf, play tennis – I love it all.  I also love to travel and like to escape to unwind.

What’s the secret to your success? What advice would you give to a young restaurateur or chef?

Remm:  There’s no blueprint for success in this town – the landscape is constantly changing.  I think we’ve managed to do what we’ve done based on an unwavering commitment to consistency and attention to detail.  

Birnbaum: Take your time in developing any new concept – make sure you have the menu and the service on point before opening.  Also, if you’re opening your first place, find a manageable space, nothing too big with too large an overhead.  A great location is also essential.

Huynh: There is no secret to success, but every day I try to improve and get better.  My words to a young chef would be that this is not glamorous, this is nothing like TV.  Put your head down, work hard, be dedicated, and work your way up.  In a kitchen, there are a million things that could go wrong with each dish you put out. Every time I show up to work there’s a new challenge to address, but it’s part of the excitement.

[Photo: Brett Moen]