On we go with The Gatekeepers, a photo series we've commissioned from Michael Harlan Turkell. For the next several weeks, we'll be presenting portraits of The Gatekeepers: the very folks that stand between you and some of your favorite impossible-to-get tables.
The Little Owl took the NY eating set by storm in 2006. It was an accelerating racehorse out-of-the-gate and still hasn't looked back. Indeed, 'fully booked' and 'two hour wait' are de regur seven nights a week at Gabriel Stulman and Joey Campanaro's West Village 30-seater; and, mostly, though Mr. Stulman is always gracious, you're just not getting in.
Gabriel:"Being a maitre 'd is like playing chess. You're thinking an hour ahead on your seating plan, and moving things around constantly. I used to use a pen, but now my favorite tool is the pencil, simply for its ability to erase and amend."
"We have a thorough system that includes two callbacks, in which we repeat the day, date, time, name, phone number. We have a great amount of appreciation and gratitude that people want to eat at our restaurant. Occasionally people lie about reservations. We find it important to make it clear that the error is not on our part, so that nobody gets an impression that they pulled a fast one over us. And in the same breath, do everything possible to try to accommodate them and find them space in the restaurant."
"We don't show a priority to a diner because of their professional field, because you don't know who's going to be your regular in a few years? It's most likely those that live in the area, so be kind to your neighbors."
"Out of 10 tables, only 3 tables that can seat more than 2 people. Only 2 tables are held for walk-ins and there are 4 seats at the bar. In a few weeks 3 tables will be left unreserved, allowing 30% to be walk-ins and 70% of our covers as reservations only. It's hard to get a table, yes, but we don't want to discourage the spontaneous, if it were all walk- ins, there would be a two-hour wait and nobody would make a long commute based on the assumption of a long wait."
"Larger restaurants have someone who takes the names, someone who seats, someone who does this, and someone who does that. A small restaurant like ours, everyone does all of these jobs, but that doesn't mean the amount of attention we give to any one person suffers. We'll do all we can to accommodate each and every request equally."
"We have hip-hop playing, no table cloths, no ties, and Adidas sneakers, we welcome everyone, without being pretentious. We keep our feet on the ground and go by the motto, "UNDER PROMISE - OVER DELIVER"."