Have people compared you to Amy Sacco? Admittedly yes, and I am honored. She is giant in this business. I might know 1% of the people she knows, so it is flattering for someone to say I am like her.
Where have you been going out? I like small places that have an identity. I like La Esquina … I think that place is brilliant. It’s completely original, and it still holds up. It will be there a long time and the food is excellent. I like this place in Williamsburg called Moto. It’s in this old check-cashing shop. It’s a random location in the middle of nowhere. They made a great Parisian bistro/bar with great details. It’s just so charming. Sometimes they have a band, and you have to walk through the band to enter.
How’d you get involved in this business? Really the way I got into the business was finding this street. I passed this street with friends one night after a concert because we decided to walk to the Brooklyn Bridge to watch the sunrise, and I felt the street was so magical and wondered why no one had ever done anything on it. I started looking around and talking to brokers. I thought it would make a good cocktail bar destination. I hadn’t even met Albert Trummer yet. I quickly realized there was a huge barrier to entry into the Chinese community as an outsider. They don’t do leases here. People pay month to month. You want a lease if you are going to renovate a space and put a lot of money into it. Meeting with a landlord is hard because they are not interested … they pass it down into the family. Everything on the street has been owned by families over the years. I just kept the idea. I met Albert a couple of years ago through a friend who worked with him at Town and had read about him and admired him. I was moved by his humbleness when I met him. I felt that what he was doing with his mixology, no one else was doing. Albert had worked at Town and Bouley, and I thought it would be cool to bring him into an edgier environment.
Who do you admire? Keith McNally. First because he has not sold out, meaning I am sure he has been approached by everyone under the sun to put a Balthazar in Las Vegas or a Pastis wherever. He keeps his brand very strong … he doesn’t dilute them. Each restaurant is a unique concept and its own brand, and he doesn’t open more than one of them. He nails it on the head. He has great staff. He has great vision. He also gives back a lot. Every year he brings an orphanage into Balthazar and feeds them. The do magic shows for them, and the cards get stuck to the ceiling. You will see them still on the ceiling. He is also very humble and down to earth. Danny Meyer is next because he really understands service. He is a warm person and has built an empire, and none of them have a cold, corporate feeling. He wrote a book about hospitality and says it’s the small details that get you to the big place. Everyone in the industry says you have to read his book. People live by it. He gives back a lot too. He is also really down to earth.
What trends are you seeing in your industry? I hope attention to detail is a trend in the city. That’s what interests me. Places need to make a statement and be memorable, which I think is from substance. It can’t just be I am so-and-so and I am opening this, ’cause no one will care in six months.
What is something that people don’t know about you? That I am from Indiana. That I have a twin sister, not identical. We are yin and yang. She supports me in all my crazy ideas. She is the good one, Katie. Also that I don’t care about the “scene.” I don’t need to constantly network. I like to be alone and lay in the sun
Burger Shoppe, Apothéke. What’s next? I have another business too. It’s a concierge service called Sorted. It is a membership. I am not even taking on new members. I have even more I want to do. I want a personal life too. Also opening places, you get a bug to open more. I am even hoping to expand into the basement and upstairs of this space.