Gabe Stulman, the creative and frenetic force behind Joseph Leonard, Perla, Bar Sardine and several other West Village restaurant, says his team has been, "On a treadmill on level 10 straight fucking sprinting" for the past several years. But in the last 14 months, he tells Eater, he's decided that it's time to do — in his words — some core strengthening, calisthenics and yoga.
Stulman changed his senior management team from an army of one to around eight people in that time, and now all are working to push the boundary of what the restaurant company does. Not only is Stulman now in the early stages of opening a new restaurant, he's also planning to launch a lifestyle brand, and maybe even start online content and a restaurant design consulting arm down the line. Those projects will roll out separately, but most are well underway.
Amid all the chaos, Stulman hasn't stopped doing what he does best: his newest restaurant project is a Cuban concept. Like all of his restaurants, this one has a personal tint to it for him and his business partner — both of their wives come from Cuban parents who fled Castro. "I go to Miami constantly and I fucking love Cuban food personally. I love the rich culture. I think it's something that's not as well represented in New York as it could be and should be," he tells me. He plans to borrow from grandparents' recipes and photo albums, and the diner vibe of Miami's classic Cuban joints. He's still deciding between three or four spaces spaces, but one would allow him to open as soon as six months from now, and at the latest, he says, the restaurant would open 10 months from now.
Even before the restaurant gets underway, Stulman will be launching a lifestyle brand, which, is in "active in production" making "stuff like soaps, candles, clothing." He tells Eater it should be ready to go in three months. When asked who his customer is, he points at every table at Jeffrey's Grocery on an early Monday evening. The house is filled with young professionals grabbing a drink after work, a table of older ladies catching up with a friend visiting from the South, and a few neighborhood locals, plus his scruffy but stylish staff folding napkins in a back corner. The products will be sold in his restaurants and on the company's soon to launch new website.
Another part of the brand that Stulman's building will be likely be online content edited by founding editor of Tasting Table and Short Stack Nick Fauchald, who joined Stulman's team as creative director three months ago. Though the project is just an idea at the moment Stulman references both Lucky Peach and Diner Journal as successful publishing brands that grew out of restaurants, albeit in print.
There are also dreams of opening a restaurant in a hotel, a la Marta or Dirty French, and of starting a restaurant design consulting business, but neither is concrete at the moment. Still, Stulman moves like a sprinter, so either could come about suddenly. "There are a lot of hotel developments happening in Brooklyn and Manhattan, and we've putting out into the universe that we're interested and the universe is coming back to us," he says
Despite all of the changes, Stulman says the biggest, to him, is the name of his business. It was long ago dubbed Little Wisco by a Times writer, but Stulman says the name didn't seem to fit once he expanded beyond the tiny cluster of corners that are home to three of his restaurants. Out the window of Jeffrey's Grocery he points to an office over Joseph Leonard, to a large gas station sign he and his wife picked up years ago. It says Happy Cooking. When he launched Joseph Leonard, that was the name of the LLC. "The name that we should be is the name that we've been since day one."