For 25 years, Stephen Hanson was one of many largest names in New York eating places. Beneath the umbrella of his B.R. Visitor restaurant group, he opened large, and massively hyped, eating places like Dos Caminos, Ruby Foo’s, Blue Water Grill, and Michael White’s Fiamma. By 2012, he had grown his portfolio to 26 eating places in New York, Las Vegas, Atlantic Metropolis, and Florida. However in 2013, he left B.R. Visitor with a plan to, he says, retire. Then, he couldn’t resist a brand new alternative. Hanson’s new restaurant is Henry in the Life Hotel. It’s a restaurant that feels consistent with these he opened in the course of the B.R. Visitor years, however for 2017: a elegant however not stuffy design, an easy and clear idea, and a menu (here) that leans closely on crowd-pleasers, like beef tartare, pastas, pizza, and baked clams. The restaurateur talked with Grub about his second act, his plans for the longer term, and what’s modified within the business since opening Coconut Grill in 1987.
You opened motels and plenty of eating places earlier than, underneath your previous firm, B.R. Visitor. What’s totally different about opening in 2017 versus, say, the ’80s or ’90s?
Once I first began on this enterprise — that is my fourth lodge chain — the buyer simply needed to have enjoyable. It was extra a few huge, loopy nightclub scene. So, if this was 1995, we might simply bust out the alcohol and music. It’s morphed through the years with the sophistication of the buyer, and now, 50 % of the time — this can be a stat — individuals will select a lodge due to the restaurant. Look, I’ve executed five-star lodges. I’ve a three-star lodge that’s reasonably priced and I feel the restaurant provides worth at an reasonably priced degree.
Would you examine the Life Lodge to, for instance, the Freehand?
So, I personal the asset. I would like to have the ability to management all of it. With most motels, it’s a farmed-out state of affairs and contract. As nice as they’re, the guy operating the restaurant actually doesn’t care concerning the man in room 202. Right here, I attempt to be a neighborhood restaurant for the world and the individuals upstairs. I can’t inform you what number of neighborhoods I went into that nobody needed to enter, and — I’m not going to take all of the credit score. There have been others. However I purchased Isabella’s out of fifth-generation chapter. It was thought-about a haunted area. It lasted 30 years. Paying lease is not any enjoyable, as a result of when you make the world profitable they’re jacking the lease up.
Have you ever been engaged on this venture because you left B.R. Visitor?
No, no, no. I used to be completely retired. Then a fellow who’s a companion right here requested, “Why don’t you come again in?” I assumed it was going to be slightly bit simpler, however constructing one thing in New York has gotten rather a lot more durable. However I obtained again into it, and when you get going, you’ll be able to’t cease.
Why is it more durable now than it was 10, 15, no matter years in the past?
It’s every thing. New York is booming. Coping with the town, which is basically fairly exhausting for the builder however good for the buyer. It’s very stringent. However you recognize? You’re in all probability not going to have many accidents. You need to take that legal responsibility off your self, so I sort of like that.
What concerning the Division of Well being?
So, there’s a backstory. Again within the day, I used to be Michael Bloomberg’s go-to man for coping with the restaurant and enterprise group. I helped negotiate the letter-grading system when it first began popping out. I used to be the bridge man. Similar with the smoking legal guidelines. I labored with Tom Frieden, who headed the CDC for Obama, determining a plan for the legal guidelines and the way to part them in. Once I was nonetheless with B.R. Visitor, they received rather a lot harder on cleanliness, I stated, “nice!” as a result of I’m a clear freak, and it was that I used to be the one one yelling at everyone, then I might blame the town!
It’s been 30 years because you opened your first place. How else has the business modified?
It’s actually troublesome to seek out devoted staff. Thirty years in the past, you possibly can rent anyone and also you’d settle for a photograph of Donald Duck. At this time, there isn’t a playing around. However I’ve by no means been sued by anyone. I’ve by no means had any class-action lawsuits, I’m in all probability the one firm within the metropolis that didn’t. I’ve by no means been sued over discrimination — properly, I’ve by no means had one which I’ve misplaced or needed to settle.
What concerning the metropolis’s market of eating places? It’s much more saturated with choices now, and that presents challenges, too.
Sure, 100 %. These choices are there, and a number of the guys are doing extraordinarily enjoyable, high quality issues. The sophistication of the cooks and shoppers within the final ten years has, I feel, gone up tenfold. Eating places at this time are pushing all the bounds. Just like the baked clams with ‘nduja we’ve on the menu. I don’t know for those who’re going to seek out that anyplace else.
You’ve all the time talked about placing an enormous emphasis on hospitality. There was the New York story, “Steve Hanson Wants You to Be Happy.” Do you are feeling diners’ expectations have modified?
I don’t assume something’s actually modified. Everybody needs worth and to be handled respectfully. You attempt to have individuals working for you which have hospitality of their soul. Once you discover these individuals, you possibly can have a terrific product. I might say the chef is 60 % of it, the entrance of the home is 30 to 40 %. And I would like a spot that feels good and you are feeling good eating in. Sitting right here in several areas and features of the room, I by no means felt there was a nasty seat in the home.
What about entry to elements now versus earlier in your profession?
The world has opened up a lot. Once I first opened up Coconut Grill in 1985, individuals hardly knew what radicchio was, they usually have been consuming Mateus, the wine bottle with the wicker on it. At the moment, the world is flat with components.
Did it restrict you?
I didn’t know. You have been naïve. Everyone was simply experimenting. Bringing issues in from Italy was an enormous deal. Even once I had Fiamma with Michael White, we have been importing Italian anchovies. That was an enormous deal. Now, you possibly can in all probability get them on Amazon.
It’s not simply eating places anymore, although, however higher-end supply providers like Caviar. Are they competitors?
No. It’s the identical factor as Airbnb. If you wish to go to Brooklyn and pay $100 much less and sit by your self or with some bizarre dude that you simply don’t know, have enjoyable. That’s not what I’m promoting. I’m promoting an surroundings. I’m promoting a sociability. Having Caviar by your self doesn’t resonate with what my mentality of hospitality is or the place I feel individuals are going. I feel that the individuals which are making an attempt to make you are feeling like that — that high-end supply is an alternate — are those offering the service. It’s somewhat bit trumped up. And I don’t assume there’s an entire bunch of men who need to get a higher-end product delivered to their house and need to eat it by themselves.
In that previous New York article, you talked about coaching manuals and telling employees they aren’t right here to select up clients. Proper now, some ladies are literally being given a chance to speak extra about sexual harassment, together with on this business.
I used to inform people who I wasn’t going to have their habits kill my enterprise. Method again once I began, Coconut Grill was very busy. Isabelle’s was off the charts. And it was a social scene. Seinfeld used to return in, he did an awesome present about us. Bruce Willis, Steve Martin, fashions would are available. Sports activities gamers. Even there at Park Avenue at Blue Water Grill, it morphed right into a social scene: You had scorching waitresses, you had scorching waiters, and also you had a scorching clientele. However you’ll be able to’t let these two work together as a result of typically it’s going to harm your corporation.
We used to have Christmas events and I ended it 25 years in the past. An excessive amount of alcohol, an excessive amount of enjoyable, and an excessive amount of of a loopy scene. I used to be all the time conscious of not crossing that line. I’m positive that, sadly, issues occurred again then within the ’80s and ’90s which are in all probability not acceptable immediately. However I used to be fairly stringent that there was no tolerance for that … Once more, as a result of I used to be a big restaurateur, I knew that if there was a problem, you have been going to go for it. I needed to shield the enterprise.
Henry, 19 W. 31st St., nr. Fifth Ave.; 212-615-9910