Founder and Owner of Myriad Restaurant Group
How did you get into the business?
My mother was a child actress, then in radio and theater. My father worked as an attorney for the New York State Liquor Authority licensing restaurants so he was friendly with some of the most iconic restaurateurs of the ‘60s. I was exposed to every nationality as a kid. I was exposed to restaurants very very early.
What was it that you liked about it?
It was everything, the personalities, the food, because I just loved food! I took a job at McDonald’s in high school. I was the quarter pounder grill man. I got into Cornell Hotel Administration and that basically allowed me to enter the school of hard knocks, the work experience that I had.
What was the experience like at Cornell? What did you come out with?
Cornell provides an extraordinary education in the hospitality world. They teach all the discipline, the finance and law and business principles and also cooking classes. The education at Cornell was as multi-ethnic as the student body was. You’re an 18-year-old kid, a freshman, and the first day meeting a kid from the Bahamas or South Africa or Hawaii really added up to a tremendous education.
You’re going to receive the Torch Award from Master Chef Ferdinand Metz at the IRFSNY show. What does that mean to you?
I have a high regard for Ferdinard Metz, what he started and how he’s always been a very good example of our industry, someone with high standards and discipline. He’s the motivation behind the award. If you take the word “torch,” it’s the light that guides the way. I like that. When I look back on it in a career where I’ve opened close to 40 restaurants all around the world, I’ve offered tremendous opportunities to thousands of people in all parts of the industry.
How has the industry changed?
The intention early on when people opened bars or taverns or eateries, it wasn’t looked upon as a business. It was more like a lifestyle. You could operate in NY with very low rent, overhead was reasonable so you could pass on an extraordinary food value to your guests. Now the unfortunate truth is that every cost has not only risen, but it’s doubled, tripled. Eating out has become a very expensive proposition. I’m never one to be gloom and doom but there is a factor of doom and gloom when you just can’t keep raising your prices and expect your volume to stay the same. So when there’s a drop off in volume and a raise in prices, that’s not a very good financial recipe.
What do you think about the whole living wage thing?
When I hear people talk about, people should have a living wage, what we’ve done over the years is provide people with a living wage. It doesn’t resonate with me. I do understand the fight in restaurants for workers where the tips are marginal but in our restaurants, our staff is making excellent money.
How has the city changed, this whole Brooklyn thing that has happened, the West Village? What’s your read on what NY looks like today?
The good news is that NY is a safer place so people are venturing into neighborhoods where they might not have gone before and the businesses starting there are seeing rents generally being low there – my own MO in Tribeca in 1985. It’s great, there’s all these neighborhoods that never had a marketplace for restaurants, like the Lower East Side, Brooklyn, the meat district. What unfortunately it’s done to some of us has diluted the pool a little so we have to work that much harder to get people to come to our doorstep. NY is a fabulous place, the premier restaurant town because there’s always this different neighborhood and ethnic restaurant proliferate everywhere. Our generation raised the bar to where this generation is really putting out excellent food.
What do you think that’s a result of?
The schools, the education, the guys like myself, the restaurateur community who have raised the bar considerably. If you look at the family tree of chefs that came out of Montrachet, or Tribeca Grill, keep opening their own restaurants, it’s pretty prolific.
You’ve opened restaurants all over the country. What makes NY different?
There’s never a moment of boredom, never a second, it’s almost like you can’t expire the list. The minute you think you’ve been on top of everything, you think I haven’t been to Momofuku’s new place or Virginia’s in the village. There’s always something.
You have a love of sports and have been able to merge that passion with several concession projects with Citi Field and MSG.
Part of the Myriad idea was to do a lot of different things with different people. Partnerships are very important to us. That we have accomplished people and that our goals align, that’s why we call ourselves the Myriad Restaurant.
How do the dynamics of doing a concession differ from a restaurant?
Well, the risks that are involved. When we put our own money into something and pay the rent, obviously that’s different than if we lend our name and expertise to a management deal or some sort of consulting arrangement. When you’re in someone else’s building, it’s their rules. We’re risk-averse. We prefer deals where there’s no risk involved.
One key to your success is you have had very gifted culinary and operating partners. What’s the strategy for finding the right partner?
When we say strategic partner, it depends obviously on the part of the country we’re going to, but we look for someone who’s going to be honest and forthright and from the very beginning if there’s any indication that that’s not the case, we say no. So far we’ve never entered into a deal where we’ve had partnership problems.
When you walk a show, what are you looking for?
I walk the aisle. A lot of the reason I go is to run into people I haven’t seen in a long time. If I’m going to operate a new restaurant, I’m looking at equipment and the materials I might want. Generally speaking, it’s a chance to see the food community at large.
You’ve designed many kitchens. When you look at a piece of space, what’s your thought behind how you’re going to design a kitchen?
I’ve learned that most of our restaurants are chef-driven. We really need the chef to weigh in in terms of the equipment and how it’s going to relate to the menu of that restaurant. The chef drives the spec. What’s most important is that we don’t neglect some of the areas like ware washing and storage. You need to keep an eye on that. Over the year it’s become a little onerous.
Do you have a kitchen designer you go to for that expertise?
We work with a number of people. Over the years we’ve worked with different people. Now that there’s 32 Nobus around the world, it’s not all cookie-cutter. But there are certain things we do that work well for us.
You’re off to the Super Bowl next week. You’ve been involved with “Taste of the NFL.” How did that start and what do you hope to get out of that relationship?
We do an enormous amount of charity.
Just being part of the community. I learned a long time ago that if you talk the talk you got to walk the walk. All the things we do, first and foremost we do them because the charities need that support. Then if it throws off some residual good will, that’s fine. But that’s not what we’re looking for. It’s just being a part of the community and just making sure we do our part.
From a vendor standpoint, do you look to build loyalty with food vendors or do you look to go out to bid on a regular basis? What’s that relationship look like?
We’ve been very loyal to our purveyors. When you hire a new purchasing guy or back of the house guy, it’s inevitable that they beat up on everyone to get the best prices. You do settle into a little pattern that doesn’t necessarily work out on your own behalf. But we’ve had an extraordinary run. Tribeca is 25 years and Montrachet, a little over 30 years ago. I think we’re very loyal to a certain number of our purveyors.
What about technology in your restaurants? Do you look for iPads to take the place of POS?
We’re still in the world of the POS systems that we’ve owned for a long time. I’m not a big iPad person for all the ordering, but anything that creates a greater efficiency for the guest is something we would look at. The more you see it today, guests want less personal service than more. At some point, you might have to recognize that they might be more comfortable pressing a button to order rather than deal with waiters.
You worked for Warner LeRoy. What was that like? How has that affected who you are today?
He was a terrific guy. He was flamboyant at a time when there were not a lot of restaurateurs like that. He made a decision to create atmospheres like a three-ring circus. Bar in the middle, maybe more casual space on the corner, street side. Back of the restaurant with a room that mimicked Maxim’s of Paris. It was a veritable three-ring circus. At the end of the day the menus were enormous. I look back, I don’t know how we did it. But I know having worked there, whether Tavern on the Green or Maxwell’s Plum, he really drove people to higher standards.
In a positive way?
Yes. There were times when he wasn’t realistic, he’d hire a chef from the Cunard in London and would expect that that would somehow translate into 3-star food for 2,000 people a day. We were a volume restaurant. But when we finally settled in with people who could handle the volume and still produce high-quality, that’s when the restaurant shined the brightest. George Lang had a big
impact on me.
There are a few things on the horizon, I always want things in special places, maybe something on the water, on a tall floor of a building. I have a couple things up my sleeve.