Shelly Fireman has created and operated some of New York’s most acclaimed restaurants, including Trattoria Dell’Arte, two Brooklyn Diners USA, Café Fiorello, Redeye Grill, Shelly’s New York and Bond 45 in Times Square.
This month his firm has added another Italian inspired eatery: Florian.
One of the city’s most successful restaurateurs, Fireman has laid claim to a giant space that was long run by another titan of the eatery business. The creator of long-running, mid-priced Italian crowd-pleasers Trattoria Dell’Arte and Cafe Fiorello, among others, has taken over the huge, former Wildwood space at Orda Management’s 225 Park Avenue South.
The location was operated by Stephen Hanson’s BR Guest for more than 20 years as Park Avalon, Barca 18 and most recently Wildwood. The barbecue Mecca closed, just days after Hanson left the restaurant empire he founded and then sold to hotel maven Barry Sternlicht.
Fireman wasted no time swooping in on the 185-seat, 7,000 square-foot venue. Cushman & Wakefield’s Bradley Mendelson, who arranged the 15-year lease as he did for previous restaurants at that address, wouldn’t say how much rent Fireman was paying, but noted the Park Avenue South retail market for street-level space was “around $125 a square foot.”
Fireman got into the restaurant industry after reading about the business at the public library. In the early ’60s, he created, built and ran the famous Hip Bagel on MacDougal Street in Greenwich Village. He said, “I jumped in being ignorant. I had read about food costs and inventory at the public library and I was brought up with a sense of hospitality – I knew just enough to be successful.” Since then, he has learned a lot more about service and hospitality and his restaurants’ dishes have earned accolades such as “Best Pizza in New York,” (Café Fiorello), “Best Cheeseburger,” (Brooklyn Diner USA), and “Best Chicken Soup,” (Brooklyn Diner USA).
The Fireman philosophy on the industry has become legendary. “There are only bumps, no spectacular failures. As long as I can get up in the morning, things will be okay. In my life, I never worried about failure. I always just thought that even if every girl in New York hated me, I’d go to New Jersey.”
The ultimate showman, Fireman traveled to Tuscany where he has a home with renowned Broadway and movie set designer David Korins to “help me” create the new venue, which boasts bronze sculptures by Fireman himself.
The chef is Brando de Oliveira. Highlights include a 12-seat burrata bar, with twists on the mozzarella specialty like carbonara-style filled with egg, and a 200-seat dining room. Dishes include osso buco lasagna, carrot-polenta fries and pizza.