News for the Hospitality Executive
|By Elizabeth Sanger, Newsday, Melville, N.Y.
Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News
Jan. 30, 2004 - New York restaurateurs will soon have a lot more on their plates.
The opening of the $1.7 billion Time Warner Center on Thursday will turn Columbus Circle into a culinary crossroads, as eight A-list restaurants and bars start dishing out pricey appetizers and eating up the huge media hype.
It's the first time in the closely followed Manhattan dining scene that so many hotly anticipated restaurants have opened almost at once -- and under one roof. "The Restaurant Collection" is tucked away on the third and fourth floors of the development, amounting in some circles to an expense-account food court that will require reservations way in advance.
But is this too much of a good thing in the notoriously risky Manhattan restaurant business?
"I'd say 70 percent yes, 30 percent no," said Len Pickell, president of the James Beard Foundation, which promotes the culinary arts.
The success of the new hot spots, observers say, rides on a series of "ifs," as in if the economy continues to improve, if tourists flock to New York in growing numbers, and if the food and service live up to the famous chefs' oversized reputations.
The arrival of more top toques raises the bar for the tight-knit group of cooks in the city and reinforces New York as a world capital of gastronomy, said Daniel Boulud, owner of the popular formal French restaurant Daniel on the Upper East Side, who doesn't seem fazed by the competition.
The openings stimulate interest in the city's 17,000 restaurants overall, notes Tim Zagat, publisher of popular dining guides bearing his name.
Rather than competing against the restaurants across the atrium, the Time Warner dining halls are feeding off each other, drawing more attention to the group as a whole, Zagat said. More restaurants mean more publicity, which means more diners and dollars.
The 60,000 square feet of restaurant space has cost $60 million to build and furnish, said Ken Himmel, president of Related Urban Development, which assembled the collection. He expects the operators to generate $60 million a year in revenues, with some kitchens whipping up profits by 2005.
Rande Gerber, owner of Stone Rose Lounge, the first watering hole to open, said the dramatic corner space overlooking Central Park will be "sophisticated and elegant, while keeping it sexy." A Woodmere native, Gerber's claims to fame include running 23 bars and marrying supermodel Cindy Crawford.
Himmel said he conceived Time Warner Center, with 40 boutiques, Lincoln Center jazz halls, offices, apartments, a hotel, and a large public space, to be appreciated much like Rockefeller Center. Nabbing celebrity chefs, as some hotels have done, adds an element of chic and increases value to the overall project, Zagat said.
Still, running a successful restaurant is as hard as getting a souffle not to flop. About 75 to 80 percent close within three years, Zagat said, mostly because of issues relating to financing, expensive rent, bad public relations, poor atmosphere, and mismanagement.
Some of the cooks heading to New York have garnered stars and acclaim in other regions, including Thomas Keller, chef/owner of The French Laundry in Napa Valley, Calif.; Masa Takayama, owner of a pricey sushi bar Ginza Sushi-Ko in Beverly Hills, whose East Coast feast will set diners back $350; and Charlie Trotter, who is trotting in from Chicago to launch a seafood brasserie in September.
Gray Kunz, formerly of Lespinasse in the St. Regis hotel, will be behind the stove at Café Gray and Jean-Georges Vongerichten, owner of several Manhattan hot spots, will open a steakhouse, Rare, at the end of February.
Keller's Per Se restaurant (contemporary American cuisine with French accents) will feature vegetable platters for $130, without wine, tax or tip. The French Laundry takes reservations two months to the day in advance. It hasn't been decided if such a policy will play well on Broadway.
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