clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Robins on Russian Tea Room: 'opened without being ready, understaffed in all areas'

As the now-departed Gary Robins tells it, the Russian Tea Room is cash poor and empty, with revenues plummeting and chaos behind the scenes. While it would be convenient to write this off as a bitter former employee exacting revenge, Robins' claims are generally supported by others who have seen the new RTR from the back of house. While RTR is a hard sell to the Deathwatch committee, the picture is not bright in the short-term:

Eater: Why are you no longer working at the Russian Tea Room?
Robins: My situation with the RTR is simple. Hasan Biberaj, the owner, Ken Biberaj's uncle, decided after seeing his sales drop from close to a $1,000,00.00 dollars in December to $225,000.00 in January, and having paid few of his bills since opening, because he did not have an adequate accounting department, that I was too expensive and irresponsible in running the kitchen.

He relieved me from my position and felt he could control the restaurant better without me. This is after working eight months for him, 72 to 100 hours a week plus, without a vacation, two days off or anything. My workdays consisted of 12 to 15 hours straight, no break, no lunch every day.

Also FYI since the RTR inception it has been through 5 GM's and fired hundreds of people in the past two months. Hasan even fired a reservationist, on the spot because she did not answer the phone by the second ring. True.

Eater: To what extent was the departure related to how the restaurant faired with reviewers?
Robins: The reviews played an Intricate role in my leaving, not because I was upset, but because of the RTR financial situation. You have a restaurant that opened without being ready, understaffed in all areas, especially in accounting. The accounting department, one person, could no keep up with payroll, accounts receivable, accounts payable etc... we were on COD our third week in business. What eventually played out was that in early January, after doing close to 1.5 million in sales between Nov and Dec, we really had not paid any of our vendors, so the amount of money that had to go out in January was huge - figure 25%-30% of sales. Couple that with our drop in business, from $40,000.00+ a day, to an average of $10,000.00 daily and obviously the owner freeked out.

Of course sales always drop after the holidays, but it's generally at most 20%, not 75%.

Eater: Have you been in touch with management since your departure? Is there any way the relationship will be salvaged?
Robins:Here's part of the letter I sent to Hasan: [via email]


[Robins has asked us to remove the letter he had forwarded us, and we're going to honor his request. His statement to replace said letter: "I am truly disheartened with the way the events took course at the RTR. I was forced out."]

Eater:In hindsight, would you say that it was a mistake to reopen RTR? Do you think it'll survive in the long run?
Robins: It's hard to say. I truly thought New Yorkers would embrace the reopening and champion it's return. Some have, some haven't. It's difficult to judge when critics call it "a wheezing institution", "lurching back from the dead".
The problem is the ones that truly remember the old RTR romanticize the past, it's like going back to an old lover, you think it was the best ever, but there's a reason they're an ex.

That said, it's beautiful set of rooms, a great location, so if they get their act together, they could do very well.

Eater:How about you, sir. What's next?
Robins:Good question - I haven't really taken any time off since I opened the Biltmore Room, jumped right into the RTR and haven't rested. So I'll probably take a couple of weeks to relax and see where I want to go.
· Panicked Russian Tea Room Boots Robins [~E~]

Sign up for the newsletter Sign up for the Eater New York newsletter

The freshest news from the local food world