Arthur Dozortsev Reflects on a Lifetime in the Alcohol Biz

To the thousands who have laughed and smiled with him, Arthur Dozortsev is Arty. He sells booze and is one of those thousands of people who make a living off the nightlife industry even though they don’t actually work at a club, bar, or restaurant. When the city or state changes a law a little, or a joint gets closed or isn’t allowed to open, there is a ripple effect to our local economy. Arty is on that second ripple. He rolls deep, showing up at clubs with herds of models and players. He’s the kind of guy that smiles even when he is mad or hurt. When he was throwing big soirees back in his Kremly vodka days, they were packed with all the right sorts. I had coffee with my friend at Prince Street Catering, and asked him what he’s up to.

You have been around quite a while, but burst onto the scene hard with your product Kremly Vodka. Tell me about that experience. I have been in New York for over 35 years, and yes, Kremly Vodka was an amazing experience. I was basically doing marketing, sales, PR, product placement, you name it. It was great because I met the best people from all over the world. I was working with every hot club and restaurant in New York, Florida, California and a lot of places all around the world, so that gave me the ability to be around really great people from all industries.

Is it hard to launch a vodka? It is always hard to launch a liquor brand. Back in the day, when we launched, we really didn’t have as much premium vodkas as today, but it was an uphill battle from the start. It was a lot of tastings, a lot of events, a lot of word of mouth, a lot of hard work. It was very difficult for us, because we were a private company with limited resources going against giants like Absolut and Stoli, but we made a stand in the industry.

You were born in the Ukraine. Tell me about your transition to the “American” way of life. Yes, I was born in the Ukraine, but I dont remember much cause my family left when I was 2. It was very difficult for my family. My dad didn’t speak English and had no money. But working hard in the country and being honest and loyal, my dad became very successful in the food and caviar business, which led us to get into the liquor business, so I guess as far as I can remember, I was more of an American then a Ukrainian .

Tell me about Forever Young. Forever Young is a joint venture between my good friend Seth Greenberg and my company, in creating a new line of wines called Forever Young. Both Seth and I have a great infrastructure, and we both decided it would be a great idea to launch a great line of wines with a fun approach behind it .

You sell product to some of the hottest places in NY. Name some of them and tell me what you are selling. We work with places like Tao, Sparks Steak House, Rue 57, Serafina, Casa la Femme, 1Oak, Juliet, Provocateur, STK, Dos Caminos, Mari Vanna and many more. Most of these places carry our wines by the glass, which we import mainly from Spain, Chile, Italy, Argentina and Germany. As far as the products they are mostly the common wines people drink.

The SLA has banned a great deal of the promotional money distributors and liquor companies used to be able to give for events. Tell me about the laws for this, and how it affects you. The SLA is always trying to enforce tougher laws which in a way I think is sometimes good. It keeps the industry honest, or at least tries to. We are not really affected by it because we really don’t give away promotional money. As importers and distributors in NY, we are able to offer the best prices in town, so I guess that’s our niche in the business, great wines at great prices

Is the climate for business in NYC getting better or worse? The climate for us as a company is great and very upbeat. There are over ten thousand liquor licenses in the city and we only work with 10 percent of them, so we have a very big opportunity to grow. Personally, I think the climate is a bit stale. Being in the city for so long and going through some of the best times the city has been through, I feel we need to step it up a bit.

Where do you hang these days? 1Oak is great, and Provocateur is a lot of fun but, but there is nothing to compare to the days of Tunnel, Limelight, Mars, or even some as early as Life on Tuesdays. I guess I am spoiled. My favorite place right now is Provocateur in the Gansevoort Hotel. Other wise I am at 1Oak, Juliet, Soho House during the day, and I love this new restaurant BES in Chelsea , amazing food. And u can always catch me at Ciprianis.

Industry Insiders: Chris Santos, Stanton Street Star

Chris Santos of the Stanton Social on his love of dives, Apothéke owner Heather Tierney, and why thinking too much detracts from dining.

Where do you go out? Well, I’m kind of a dive bar kinda guy both in drinking and for eating. I mean, I obviously enjoy a good Jean Georges or Per Se as much as the next guy, but I like sort of the hole in the wall-y kind of places. One I really love a lot is in Brooklyn. It’s called Franny’s. It’s on Flatbush Avenue in Brooklyn. A really simple rustic Italian, you know, wood-coal pizza and great appetizers and a beautiful garden in the back. On the outskirts of Park Slope basically, near the Manhattan Bridge. I’m a big fan of Back Forty, which is a small little bistro on 12th Street and Avenue B that does just a really outrageous burger and great roast chicken, and you know, simple crispy nuggets and simple, simple rustic comfort food. I’m a sucker for Strip House on 12th and University. It’s like my favorite steakhouse in the city. There’s a lot of crushed red velvet, bordello-y kind of vibe. And they’ve got great wine, and their steaks are, bam! They do a great job with their steak sauce. I go there monthly.

What do you do at Stanton Social? My title is executive chef and owner. My day-to-day life is hectic right now … in addition to this we are trying to get another restaurant together. I am working on the Stanton Social Cookbook. I am consulting for a restaurant group that’s going national. They’re rolling out 50 restaurants nationwide, and I am rewriting all their menus for them. I was in Las Vegas all summer helping my partner open the restaurant in club Lavo. I have two partners: Peter Kane, who in addition to this he owns Happy Ending bar, and he was the guy who opened Double Happiness, which closed just recently. And my other partner is Richard Wolf, who owns Tao, Tao Las Vegas, Lavo, Rue 57.

You rave about the vibe and loyalty in your kitchen at Stanton Social. Where have you worked that had a stressful vibe? I opened Rue 57, which is a French rotisserie on 57th Street. I was the sous chef, and Sam Hazem was the chef. He was the head chef at Tao for a really long time, and now he’s working to partner with Todd English. But that was just constant stress and drama, and you know it was a really teeny tiny kitchen, putting out enormous numbers.

It seems like if you’re doing more like the low-key, under the radar places; how come your restaurant’s high profile? I’m just lucky I guess. It’s really just upscale versions of street food and comfort foods. We’re not doing anything esoteric here. We’re not really challenging diners. I mean, I like to be challenged, but mostly I don’t. I want to go somewhere and be taken care of, and I want to be able to look at the menu and just kind of understand everything.

Name two people that you particularly admire in the industry. Would it be corny to say my partners? I really admire Josh Capon, who’s the chef at Lure Fishbar. He’s kind of an under-the-radar guy. And that’s kind of an under-the-radar place. He’s a fantastic cook. He was born to be the guy coming out of the kitchen in the white coat, just charming a table. I have a lot of admiration for Heather Tierney. She used to be a food writer at Time Out. She now owns a cocktail bar — Apothéke. She owns Burger Shoppe down on Wall Street, which is like a burger restaurant. She has her own dining concierge service where you’re basically a member, and she gets you reservations in hard to get places. She’s really young — she’s in her twenties, and she’s really passionate about food — and we’ll go out to dinner and just talk about, “Have you been here, have you been there?” We’ll talk about the industry. She’s just super motivated.

Name one positive trend or aspect you see in the restaurant industry. Affordable dining. I see a lot of restaurants opening (in Brooklyn especially) a lot of neighborhood restaurants that are serving really quality food. There’s this place called Buttermilk Channel in Carroll Gardens that just opened. That’s really amazing. Frankies. When I went to Europe — which was like ten years ago — I came back with the feeling that the big restaurants, the name restaurants, the three-star restaurants, Michelin-rated restaurants … I felt they were no better than anything that you could find in New York City. In other words, the top New York City restaurants were better than the top restaurants that I could find in Europe. But I also thought that where they had it on us, all over the place, was the little, tiny neighborhood restaurants and pubs. The food there was so awesome, and you didn’t have that in New York. That is a positive trend. You go down any little street in the Village now and walk into a 40- or 50-seat little Italian trattoria where the food is solid.

What’s changed as far as the restaurant industry goes in New York in the past year? How it’s affecting me directly? You know, we’ve had very ambitious plans to run a restaurant that’s twice the size of this. And we have this space, and we have a lease, and a year ago when were ready to pull the trigger, it would have been a couple of phone calls and a couple of dinners to raise all the money that we needed because you know our track record, not just at Stanton Social, but with my other partners as well. Basically everything any of us have ever done is successful, and everyone’s gotten their money back, and everybody’s making money. You know the investors here are doing very well, and we got the space back in record time. The difference is people now are hesitant to part with the money they have in the bank, with everything that’s been going on. Even though we have a great location, and we have a great track record, and when we open the next place it’s going to do very well. There are people that are so shell-shocked about what’s happened on Wall Street that they just aren’t necessarily willing to keep investing, so that’s something I think that’s really changed. I think you’re going to see the growth of the industry and openings and whatnot coming to a halt.

Do you think people are going to stop going out to dinner? People are going to stop going out to dinner Tuesdays and Wednesdays. I think you’ll still get your Thursday, Friday, Saturday night diners. You’ll still get your Sunday bruncher. And Monday night you’ll get your after-work crowd.