On the House is our weekly column written by the owners and operators of the great food and beverage establishments of New York. Your resident proprietor is William Tigertt of Freemans.Yesterday, Part I of Welcome to New Hollywood; Today, Part II.
A few factors seem to be accelerating the movie trend. Dining as entertainment is nothing new, but now that big New York players have gotten a taste of the big casino action in Vegas, it’s hard to return to smaller food focused venues where many of them earned their stripes. The current NYC movie blockbuster restaurant boom is actually an “echo boom” of the high-end dining land grab in Vegas that started in the late nineties. Many of the top restaurant working professionals -- restaurateurs, chefs, sous chefs, sommeliers, and even servers -- were lured out to the dessert by fat pay checks only to be drawn back to the Big Apple years later, burnt out by the cultural void of Nevada. You only have to browse some resumes on StarChefs.com to see the common Vegas-and-back-again career path.
Another key factor is licensing and products deals. Just as Hollywood has long cashed in on product tie-ins and merchandising, every big restaurant and NYC chef has at least a few cookbooks with their face on the cover. The big guys make filthy lucre on TV shows, public appearances, consulting and have all these enterprises acting as one huge PR and advertising machine for their restaurants. Result: 8:00 resy for Babbo? Not happening.
With the barrier to entry rising, realistically an 80 seat restaurant will set you back at least a million dollars including operating capital and partner’s wages. A recent Forbes article quoted half that amount, but it wasn’t including many specifics of the New York market. Just to get a lease signed in this city will cost close to $100k including security deposits, pre-paid rent, and legal fees.
If there is respite and hope, then, like in the movies, it is in our indie scene. There is already an independent film movement building, mostly in Brooklyn. Like pre-Disney Miramax, Brooklyn has become a fertile pasture for rising star chefs and restaurateurs. Look no further than Prochetta, Farm on Adderley, and The Good Fork to see tomorrow’s stars today. But for every outerborough smash hit, there are 1000 more that won’t see live to see their first birthdays.
So where does this leave the dining public? Somewhere in Hollywood in the mid eighties, I’m afraid. With 1000 covers every weekend night and probably a $60 average cover
Top Gun, Buddakan is printing cash and everyone wants to be Jerry Bruckheimer Stephen Starr.