Restaurant Rockstars Episode #309
Illustrious Restaurant Industry Disruptor
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This can be a crazy business and we all have crazy restaurant stories!
In this episode, I’m speaking with Stratis Morfogen, a restaurateur’s restaurateur and an industry disruptor. He tells about playing by his own rules, having a driving vision, creating luck, and achieving destiny.
Listen as Stratis tells us about:
- Turning the tables on the mafia
- Finding success in one of the world’s most challenging and competitive restaurant cities
- Seeing around corners and predicting the future
- Staying relevant in a constantly shifting industry and business climate
- Delivering hospitality in an automated concept
- The magic dust of truly great restaurants
And of course, his book “Be a Disruptor, Streetwise Lessons for Entrepreneurs, from Mobs to Mandates”!
This one has it all!
Don’t miss this episode, then go out and ROCK Your Restaurant!
Connect with Stratis:
Unknown Speaker 0:00
puts the bullet on the table and the 10 Grand, he says Pick one. I said, Really, we’re gonna go there. And I’m saying inside my head, this guy didn’t get the memo, that he’s really in dangerous territories if he thinks he’s going to shake down the most powerful people in the world that are behind my attorney partner.
Roger Beaudoin 0:16
We all have crazy restaurant stories from our careers in hospitality either working for someone else or with our own businesses. And today’s guest is no exception. He’s an illustrious New York City restaurateur, operating in arguably one of the most competitive restaurant towns on the planet. He actually has a 25,000 plus square foot restaurant, which he’ll tell us all about. But mostly, his message is about playing by his own rules, creating his own luck and destiny, and not being intimidated by the obstacles that get in our way. So you’re not gonna want to miss this crazy stories, best practices. It’s all here. Don’t miss it. One caveat to this episode, folks. It’s uncensored and contains adult language. It’s not the episode to listen to with the kiddos in the car, and make sure you stay until the very end, you’re not going to want to miss all the crazy stories that Stratos has to share.
You’re tuned in to the restaurant rockstars podcast powerful ideas to rock your restaurant, here’s your host, Roger Beaudoin.
Roger Beaudoin 1:27
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Roger Beaudoin 2:34
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Roger Beaudoin 3:59
Welcome back everyone. This is the restaurant rockstars podcast with me today Mr. Stratis Morfogen – he is a restaurateur an investor, an entrepreneur and author. Really interesting guy. Welcome to the show. Stratis How are you today?
Oh, thank you for having me.
Roger Beaudoin 4:16
Absolutely great having you. You’re coming at us from the eastern end of Long Island a place I know well tell us about where hospitality and the passion for restaurants really began with you.
Well, I’m a third generation restaurant tour. My grandfather immigrated here in 1895. My real last name was morphogenesis. But he had to cut the ISL because when he signed his first restaurant lease in 1905 morphogenesis wouldn’t cut it. So he wanted to sound a little bit more white Anglo Saxon Protestant German, and he went with the name war Vogon by cutting off the IRS. And there he opened up Pappas and Pappas became a big hit from 1910 to 1975 10 years after his death Have the restaurants still continued? And, you know, so I grew up in that business. And then from my father started in 1956, he had up to 14 restaurants. And basically those restaurants were from steak houses, seafood houses, Greek diners, catering halls, I really had a touch of everything. And I worked in all of them. So I knew at four to six years old, that this is what I wanted to do.
Roger Beaudoin 5:26
That’s a really early beginning. So obviously, it got under your skin and the passion and the pride runs deep. And you’ve got a number of experiences. Let’s talk about the Fulton Fish Market, because you did something really interesting there when the internet was in its infancy. And tada, tell us that story?
Well, you know, it’s funny. In regards to my book, it starts off with I’m six years old, and I’m at the Fulton Fish Market, and I describe it as Disney World. For me. That was my Disney World. And literally, my mother when I was around seven said, I’m taking your brother and sister to Disney World for the for the week. And I said no Dad’s got the truck this week, and I want to go to Fulton Fish Market with him. So I rejected disney world to actually go to the Fulton Fish Market. I think I was seven years old. And my father realized at that point, you know, restaurant is really going through my blood. So I started very young at the Fulton Fish Market. And that’s what leads to your question is that I, the networking that the more fun, the more focused were the biggest buyers in the Fulton Fish Market for about 3040 years. My uncle George was the buyer for the oyster bar in Grand Central. My father had nine restaurants at any given time. And my uncle Gus had the Moby Dick, which is a big seafood restaurant on Madison and 84th. And when they all came together at the Fulton Fish Market, they became like, you know, a Greek unit where every one of the purveyors really, like, rolled out the red carpets when the Morpho good brothers and cousins walk through the market. And that gave a lot of respect for the true owners of the market. And that was the Genovesa family. They ran the Fulton Fish Market. And you know, as the FBI might say that this this one and this one were criminals, I looked at them as extended family. You know, when I would say alley, Alley shades, man Gano when I would see all these guys, they weren’t to me anything more than extended family. So growing up in that age, you know, I learned about the Fulton Fish Market, I learned you know, when, in my book I talked about where when the police used to come into my school in second grade and tell me about policing, and what it is to be a responsible citizen. Well, they left something out, they left it out when you pull up to the Fulton Fish Market and you don’t give the gangster $40 to park your car. He sticks an icepick in your tire, and literally a block away or police sitting around a hot, hot garbage can of fire keeping their hands warm. And they’re actually witnessing this. So I used to look at the policemen coming into my school and telling us these stories. And I would look at them like this is bullshit. This is not this is not true. This is not what goes on in the real world. From six to 10 years old. I learned about the real world really, really quickly.
Roger Beaudoin 8:05
So people I call that street smarts and what an indoctrination into how life really works. But especially in a place like you know those tight knit communities of lower Manhattan and I’m hearing that the Disney World comparison for you was the sights, the sounds, the smells, energy, people the whole vibe of that place and what that meant to the greater world.
I was addicted to the energy. Yeah, I was addicted. It was such a fast pace. You know, this may seem like my father was the best My father knew that the fish on top of the box was the good one. And the fish under the box was crap. So they knew he would take that he would take a whole 60 pound box with his book and throw it on the on the scale before he bought that box of fish. And then he said throwing all the all the bad ones out. And then lo and behold all the buyers knew that they couldn’t screw over John, Peter and George and George number two more fun because these guys knew their business. And I learned all this and I’m just taking this in. I’m watching my father fight over 800 pound box of halibut herb Slaven who’s a legend down there was saying 85 cents. You’re done Greek 85 cents on my father’s like, I can curse on this right? Yeah, of course you can. Yeah, because I want to do it verbatim. Fuck you. Fuck you. You do is I couldn’t believe this language. I’m like, Oh my god. This is what my dad is saying. This is what Herb Slavens saying You damn Greek and they’re fighting over a nickel. So I pop out a nickel out of my pocket. And I give it to him. I said dad take the nickel. You know take it if you need it that bad. He pulls me over to the side throws me on top of a box a holiday. You know, my pants all wet. And he goes we’re talking about 800 nickels. And these were lesson this was my math class. Yes, my math class in the market. And at the end of the day, Herb Slaven and John were both good were out having drinks the night night after, you know as friends, but down in the market. It was all gloves off then They’re there. They’re polite, and mannerisms were awful. They would say such harsh words to each other. You thought they hated each other. But then the next day, they’re having dinner and drinks and laughing. And that’s how I was brought up in the market. And then parallel to that my dad had a restaurant at Howard Beach where the best customer was Carlo Gambino. So at six, seven years old, I’d be working as a busboy. And he’d walk in there at his same table every three, four nights a week, and he would have this five or six guys around him. And you know, I always saw how my father and all the managers treated him. Mr. Gambino seems to get better you get him his drink, get him his table, and I’m like, VIP services guy is important. You know, I talked to the table one day, and I want to be involved in that I wanted to be a part of this. So I’m pouring him water. And I said, Hi, Mr. Gambino, and the whole table just shuts up. Because here’s a guy that’s gotten so far under the way to be indiscreet to have discretion where we’re at is yes, all of a sudden, his six year old chubby busboy knows his last name. The table went silent. And I said, Oh, what did I do wrong? I remember I still remember that time. Yes. Kid. Sitting next to me goes, how’s school? I said schools good. And he goes a tipsy a $20. Bill, which is like $200 today. Yeah. Right. Right, right. 73. Yep. And he goes, Hi, is good enough. And then he goes, go on your way. And I was like, and then as I’m leaving, all the guys started laughing. I’m like, What did I do? I just said, I thought I was being gracious. And my father explained to me that we call him sir. And we say hi, because we never mentioned his name. He likes to just be called sir. That’s as much information I needed that six, seven years old, valuable. Yeah. And discretion always played well with me. Because, you know, fast forward to 2009, when I’ve owned Felipe Chao, John Paulson is about to do a hostile takeover of Bank of America. And they’re in my private dining room. And I’m there, and I’m actually seeing the PowerPoint of what they’re going to do the next morning on doing a hostile takeover for billions and billions of dollars. You know, who sees that, you know, if I was corrupt, I’d be freaking, you know, I’d be buying up the stock saw that, you know, but that’s what we see in the restaurants. And we have to, I learned at a very young age about discretion. And discretion is key to running a successful business, and especially a restaurant business. But now getting back to your question, Fulton Fish Market became extended home to me, I knew everybody there. And in 1997, when I was introduced to the internet, I knew that was the future. I actually jumped up and down and I begged all the restaurant tours at the time, take this thing serious. You guys have 510 15 restaurants. And all you have is a business card and a store locator on your website. This is not what this is about. This is about interaction. This is about engaging with your guests. It’s about content, content, photographs, information. And then eventually they’ll be able to buy online, let him go buy a t shirt, buy a hat, whatever, eventually, you’ll be able to order your food online that’s going to come in the years to come. They all call me crazy. And I said, Well, that’s what’s going to happen. So you know, I stuck my money where my mouth is, and I opened Fulton market, Fulton street.com. And that was 1997. And I worked it off at AOL server, I had about three employees. And then we were buying the fish in the market. We were bringing it to a packaging facility, we would pack it up dry ice, pretty much like an Omaha Steaks for fish, and
Roger Beaudoin 13:26
visionary. You know, some people would say you could see around corners because you could see trends before they began, you didn’t see as a trend. You saw it as the future of the world, way back then. Right? At 97. It’s like, okay, web, the web is now a thing and people are starting websites. And and very few people really understood how it would work and what the long term value of it would be. But you it sounds like you instantly recognize that value. And you saw an opportunity to move that that whole enterprise forward in a different way.
You know, and it saddens me to say that one of my friends under about 125 sporting goods stores, right? Yep. And I told them in 97. I said, Listen, I’m not going to mention his name. But I said to him, Hey, you got to take this web thing serious. You’re way ahead of Amazon, this thing called Amazon is going to come and they’re going to start doing sporting goods. i They just made an announcement. They’re going into other things but books, you need to jump ahead of this thing. You got 125 stores, you can use these stores for returns for same day delivery imagine same day delivery. And he’s like, if this was the answer I got. He said if you think people are going to buy jerseys and hats and and a baseball glove through this computer, you’ve lost your mind. I said, I’m going to tell you what I’m going to tell you one more thing. They’re going to be able to buy cars without seeing them. And they’re going to buy houses without seeing them from this computer that you’re talking about. So with that said, they’re going to buy jerseys because if they can’t touch the jersey, they’re not going to buy us a BS. They’re going to buy the jersey because they don’t Want to get out of there that they want to add it, they want it on their terms. They don’t want to be going to your store to shop, they want to shop on this thing called the computer called the Internet. And they’re gonna want you to ship it to them. You can do same day delivery, you’ve got the stores, he laughed me off the table laughed me. He said, All I needed is this for a location finder for my 125 stores. And you know what I said to him? Yeah, this is 1997. I said in 25 years with this attitude, you’re going to be bankrupt. He’s like, we have a we have a $1.7 billion valuation. They want us to go public. You’ve lost your mind. This computer compared to my 125 stores? Yes. Why? He went bankrupt in 2020.
Roger Beaudoin 15:39
And the lesson there is innovate or die stay relevant, or you’re toast. Which leads me to my next question. So you you are a well known, accomplished lifetime restaurateur, you learn the business from the ground up working, I’m hearing pretty much every position, you met influential people from an early age. And now I can’t think of a more competitive maybe San Francisco would be a close second. But what is a more competitive restaurant town than Manhattan? And think about how restaurants come and go practically every minute, how do you stay relevant and stay ahead of the curve and keep innovating and develop a celebrity clientele that one minute, you’re hot, and the next minute, some other places hot? How do you maintain that relevance?
I mean, everything you’ve just said, basically describes my life, from the pitfalls and the successes and the failures. You know, it’s all been part of my journey. And that’s what I put in my book be a disruptive because everything I’ve ever done, I’ve disrupted it. I did a Greek guy to like father had a Greek diner I did my version of a diner called Gotham diner was a three star New York Times shop. And it was called Gotham diner. And it was I was inspired by the Fog City diner. funny that you say San Francisco, I wanted to do my diner with a three star New York Times chef but still had eggs and burgers. And that was in 1993. When I when later on when I created Tony Chow, I basically took the chef out of Mr. Chow, and I wanted to create my version of fancy Chinese food, but I want it to be relevant with the entertainment industry. So I was playing from Neil Young to Grateful Dead to Led Zeppelin to the Bee Gees in a dining room, which was never heard of before, in a fine dining atmosphere where people are paying about $100, a person in 2005. And you’re hearing Led Zeppelin and Grateful Dead and Pink Floyd. But that was my vision of how I wanted to create my Chinese restaurant. And that became a Gangbuster success. It was the highest grossing restaurant in America for seven years straight. And I saw that in 2014. And basically, I took three years off, spent more time with my kids and I came up with this concept of, you know, my wife and I would go to a steak house and she didn’t eat beef. But you know, she would sit there with a lobster and a towel or a piece of fish and parsley and creamy spinach and a baked potato. And there I am sitting with a big Porterhouse. And I’m saying, Wow, something’s wrong with this. And here I am. I’ve had Chinese restaurants at that point for about about nine years. And I said, You know what? I said, Wouldn’t it be cool if all every Porterhouse remained the same dry aged 35 days, but we married it with salt and pepper lobster and Peking duck and Beijing chicken and funky dumplings. Let’s go instead of just a regular pork Shrimp or Crab dumpling? Let’s do pastrami. Let’s do Reuben. Let’s do bacon cheeseburger. Let’s do peanut butter and jelly. Instead of a soup. Let’s do French onion soup. xao. Bang. Let’s do French onion soup dumplings. Let’s do lobster bisque dumplings. And then the whole thing basically went bananas where I’ve married Beijing Chinese with an authentic American steakhouse staying true to each culture. And again, before we launch Brooklyn Chophouse. I noticed that that point, either we’re going to screw this up by confusing everybody. Or this will be innovation and disruption at its highest point. Because remember, the Chophouse came with the Irish immigrants in the 1850s in New York, and they all settled in Brooklyn. And basically after that the menu never really changed that much. It actually morphed into steak house, but Chop House and steak house to this day. You still have the same side dishes creamed spinach, baked potato. And unfortunately, one of the top steak cows got a scathing review because it said, hey, the steak is great. But everything else seems like an orphan. Everything else seems like an afterthought. What I wanted to do is make the CO stars just as good as the star. And the star being the dry age meats that they get from Patna free to 35 days I age, everything. I wanted the CO stars to be just as important and relevant, as what I created was LSD. So people said LSD, what do you I said, Yeah, we’re going to do a culinary trip and we’re going to make everything about Brooklyn Chophouse the The sub tag is going to be LSD. Like what is LSDs had lobster steak and duck. And that’s it. And then we could do lobster steak and dumplings. At the end of the day, it’s taken duck and it’s been some chops. It’s Roger it’s been hashtag so many times on Instagram, hashtag LSD. I got a letter from the feds ASCII telling me that I’m under investigation for the promotion of narcotics. Instagram was forced to remove hashtag LSD.
Roger Beaudoin 20:28
It’s an acronym for God’s sake,
if you if you go on Instagram today, hashtag LSD does not work. It was hashtag over about 3800 times in a year from our restaurant and the customers Yeah. And they shut it all down. That’s it. That was marketing legit good to me. I finally achieved it when they took down and hashtag and LSD has been become a phenomenal success. And then when you add our funky dumplings, they becomes a becomes a unique experience when you hashtag no place on Earth, but Brooklyn Chophouse, where you can get Chinese fused in with an American Steakhouse and great dumplings.
Roger Beaudoin 21:05
There’s so many lessons here about creativity and innovation and and just zigging when everyone else is zagging that literally captures notoriety in a big way. And things go viral, and people, it captures their imagination. You know, and I’m sure you’re a big believer in hooks in your restaurants. You’ve already mentioned a couple of examples of those. It’s like if our goal is to uplevel this industry, it’s to take all the stories and the experiences that you’ve had, and just give people a new idea that they say, Wow, I can do something like that I can innovate I can do what my competition is not doing because really, it’s such a competitive industry. And you’re obviously a really resourceful creative guy with celebrity behind them, and notoriety and all these things which help up level of business and can help you stay relevant. So for the average operator out there that is running a restaurant not running a business, running a restaurant, not building a brand. It’s like what advice would you give them to sort of disrupt their own business and well, their own restaurant and turn it into more of a business and a brand? Because not everybody can do that. And it is so important to the success and the longevity of your operation? Don’t you? Don’t you think?
Unknown Speaker 22:18
Yeah. The answer the first part of your question regarding celebrity. I mean, my restaurant now is in 30 Hip Hop tracks. And it’s from Jay Z to fabulous to Rick Ross to NAS, every rapper you can imagine is wrapped about my restaurant. That’s when you hit that kind of notoriety, it becomes a cultural phenomenon. Yes. But my advice to and I’ve been doing this all COVID long, I’ve actually been teaching for universities entrepreneurship, I do it on my dime, because I like to help because I like people. And that’s why I wrote be a disrupter. I don’t I’m trying to avoid people to make the same mistakes I made, you know, and I like speaking to young people, young entrepreneurs, and try to guide them, where it’s like me taking my body and going back to the 25 year old strategy, and what I would have done differently. But there’s two answers to that. Right now, I’ll tell you, I wouldn’t have changed the thing. Because those failures were actually an education for me. But what I tell restaurant tours today, I said, you know, it’s not easy to get celebrities in there. It’s taken me 35 years of relationships, to have my restaurant full of celebrities, but that’s, you know, at the end of the day, I treat celebrities the same way I treat my everyday customers, they’re all VIPs to me, and we don’t do favoritism. And everybody gets a bill. I never compass celebrity, Clinton, Obama, Trump and gore, they all pay. You know, they’ve all paid their bills, and I gotta tell you my little my little thing is, I take their credit card receipts, and I use it for my scrapbook. And that’s good. So one day, yeah, that’s cool children, right? You could, you could get like Kennedy or Roosevelt on what they ate and signed credit card. I got a whole I got it from Roger Waters, the Mick Jagger, to David Bowie, to Oprah, to all the all the presidents that I haven’t been scrapped with one day, I’ll leave from my grandkids one day. But putting that aside, that’s telling you, I tell young, thank you. I tell young restaurant tours that, you know, take take your social media, very serious, don’t look it out as an afterthought. I answer every customer that goes on my restaurants, Instagram and inquires about something because to me, that’s fish in a barrel. When people outsource it to like third world countries to enter their Instagrams or into their social media, they’re not understanding the opportunity. The opportunity is right there in front of them. You got guests that are circling like sharks, circling, they’re interested in your product and you’re gonna have a third party guy in India or Africa or Asia. That’s, you know, the only person that should be answering it is you or the manager that walks around the dining room of your restaurant, to that capacity that person should be answering and be all over social media. to answer questions, because to me, outsourcing never made any sense to me talking about Fulton street.com We were featured in customers.com by Patricia Seybold. That was like that was like the iconic book of the time. customers.com and the author was Patricia Seybold, who was an icon in customer service. Fulton street.com, with its AOL server and five employees at the time, was featured up with Southwest Airlines, Wells Fargo and Amazon as the best in customer service in the first generation of the internet. I mean, I mean, she said and there and she even said, they’re working on an AOL server. But when I placed my order, I got an email from a person. Yeah, right.
Hi, Mrs. Siebel. Thank you for your order. My name is Stratis, blah, blah, blah, on and on and on. If you need anything else, here is my cell phone. Now all of a sudden, because you gotta remember the early part of the internet, people were scared about credit cards. But when you see our goal was to put our hand right through the screen, and shake the customer’s hand. When you do that, especially early on, right, Patricia Siebel was blown away by the customer service. And that’s what I’m telling young restaurant tours today, you may not have the budgets, you got your asses kicked by these corrupt politicians. And that’s another conversation. But you know what, you still have your intellectual property, that’s what you they can’t take away from you. But when you have your restaurant, take social media, especially Instagram, and Tiktok, and Twitter and Facebook very seriously. And make sure someone that is educated in your menu and your customer experience is answering the questions. Not some outsource person, not some intern, because if that you’re not understanding the business, to understand the business is you need to roll up your sleeves and make sure that every day I fall asleep at night, Roger answering customers, I’m answering off my phone or my iPad, and I wake up in the morning and it’s sitting in my lap. And one day it’s very funny. 330 in the morning, someone said, Hey, what kind of steak is this? And I said, Oh, it’s a tomahawk. 32 ounce branded Brooklyn. Chophouse. And he’s like, oh, you know what? This is? 330 in the morning, and I’m getting an answer. I didn’t expect an answer tomorrow. I’m gonna tell Stratus how good you are. And I’m like, this is stratas. And they’re like, blown away. Blown away, not Stratus at 330 in the morning answering me it was over 100 restaurants. I said, this is me. I took a picture of me in bed with my pajamas on and I sent it to him. I said this is proof it’s me. He’s like, can I just repost this i Go Go ahead. I cannot believe you’re answering me at 330 in the morning
Roger Beaudoin 27:36
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Roger Beaudoin 28:50
Well, now you’re talking about hospitality, touching guests in a personal way. And now using that hospitality or hospitality as an extension to your social media because it translates from the guest experience live in your restaurant, an online review later. Just the whole trajectory of the experience is all about hospitality, which which is pretty remarkable. Let’s talk about you opened Brooklyn Chophouse right in the middle of the pandemic, what was that? Like? What happened?
So actually, no, so we opened Brooklyn Chophouse in 2018. Okay, and we really, because we yeah, we did a big we did a big COVID deal during COVID. Okay, so we opened in 2018. And we launched the LSD dumpling concept of Brooklyn. Chophouse when I asked my Chinese chefs, when you think a Chophouse What do you think about like chop suey. Chopsticks hashtag pork chop pork chopper is a respected physician in the kitchen, right? I’m like, I’m like, really? And this was my chef from Philly Chow. Now he’s with me at Brooklyn shop. As I said, Chef skinny. They call them skinny. I said, I think Lamb Chop pork chop. Because I know he’s like no way with a really strong Chinese accent No. Chop Suey. Chopsticks? I said that’s it. Two Cultures look at the word Chophouse in two different completely different meanings. Yes. And that’s why we fuse this all together. So Brooklyn Chophouse was gangbusters success. And then it wasn’t COVID hit us. And we had a, you know, $9 million a year restaurant, our highest projections were 5 million. And in March 2020, I had basically a restaurant doing $10,000 A week and delivery. And at that point, my partner Dave Thomas, and Robert Cummings, and myself, we sat down and said, What do we do here, morale is at an all time low, had to lay off 90% of our staff. And I said, You know what, I think we should do something that we could remember and talk to our grandkids about, let’s give it all away. Let’s just give it away. Let’s give everything we got. And let’s create like a co op here and start protecting the health care heroes that are keeping us safe. And on the line because it’s a war now, we actually went into a few emergency rooms, and it looked like what I would imagine what a war would look like. Yeah, and right. And not just the doctors and nurses, the janitorial staff and maids that cleaning up beds of people that just died from coal, right? They may, they may bring this home to their families. And I said we need to do something because no one’s doing anything. So we started making gift bags and just handing it anonymously to New York Presbyterian who are right next to us. And then they started posting stuff on Instagram. Thank you, Brooklyn. Chophouse one was 20 feet long and 20 staffers were holding a letter like wow, that’s pretty cool. We didn’t we didn’t do it for that. But that’s really cool. So we’re sending them lobster dinners, steak dinners, we’re sending them wine. We’re Junior’s cheesecake gave us 1000 cheesecakes. We’re sending them cheesecakes. And then New York co said hero of the day, March 27 2020, they call this hero of the day. And with that the big companies like Cisco, and all the other big companies came to us said, Hey, how can we be a part of this? I said donate food. Give us as much as you can. So we can up this thing. Awesome. And lo and behold, one month we upped it to about 19 hospitals. And from March 2020 to July 20. We served at 400 healthcare heroes, and we did it all complimentary. At the end of the day. Thank God it didn’t cost me that much money because I got it from Cisco helped us a lot
Roger Beaudoin 32:15
still foods. What a noble organized it. Yeah, for sure. I mean, obviously, that’s a beautiful thing. That’s a great story.
Thank you. And I gotta tell you, that’s the great story that I’m going to tell my grandkids one day because to me, that was the most proudest moment of listening. We have hundreds and hundreds of photos of health care workers from all different hospitals, and one nursing home on Mother’s Day and three police departments. And they’re just saying, thank you what dancing with the bags of Brooklyn Chophouse I mean, the most amazing videos and pictures they posted. It actually built the morale of our team again, totally sure. Good,
Roger Beaudoin 32:50
common cause for the for the common good. And that was, again, a remarkable effort for sure.
So what happened at that time to coincide of the my capitalism capitalism hat was open to I had it nice and shiny. So every every other week, I would get two to three offers from landlords, I just lost the business and lost the restaurant asking me Hey, would you consider brewing Brooklyn? Chophouse here, would you consider another brand? Would you consider bringing back your Greek father your great grandfather’s Pappas restaurant? And I just kept on saying, no, no, no, and be be up to about 100 knows, all of a sudden, the free land group offered me to take 25,000 square feet in Times Square. And I said to David Freeman and that’s a little too big for me and those guarantees and all that other stuff that you guys asked for in Times Square makes huge space. Yeah, it’s not a little guys like me. He goes, Well, we really want Brooklyn Chophouse there Can we meet at the shop at the store? So we’re gonna get to the store on 47th and Broadway. I’m like, Wow, 50 foot ceilings, five floors, rooftop, you know, a million dollar jumbotron digital jumbotron outside. It was a Buffalo Wild Wings. And I said, I said, David, I’m gonna write down what I need to get this deal done. And I expect never to hear from you again. I still consider you my friend. But business is business. I’ve got to tell you what we can do here. And together with my partner, Robert and David. We just wrote down all these different things. And we wrote, you know, a percent lease where Robert came up and said, Hey, cap it at a million dollars, cap that a million dollars, or a percent of our sales will be the rent capped at a million dollars, we want to 2025 year lease which is unheard of in Times Square. We want to COVID clause, a COVID clause means for any socialist governor or mayor in the future that ever decides to shut us down without going to court of law. We revert to 8% straight with no base rent. If they shut us down. We’re business interruption doesn’t cover it. Yeah, so business interruption doesn’t cover it. Then we revert to 8%. If there’s any shutdown and hours of operation or capacity of any kind, it drops to 8% and there’s no cap up on it. It’s until we get reopened again, that’s a business interruption who screwed us the first time around. doesn’t pick up the bill. I have that in it. Then it comes to the guaranteed Buffalo Wild Wings guarantee was $7 million. I said no, our guarantee is going to be 100 grand 100 grand is only thing I’m going to guarantee on this lease. i The two years rent free and I need a seven figure check to do the cosmetic overhaul to convert this to a Brooklyn Chop House. I wrote it on a on a piece of paper. I handed it to him. I put my jacket on. And he got to river I just got to the square. And it was probably April 2020. And I was the only one in the square at Friday, two o’clock. Only one in there. At times square. It was it was actually spooky that I was almost like a bad movie like that Tom Cruise. I can. Only one in a square. And this is New York March.
Roger Beaudoin 35:54
Probably March 2020. April,
April, April 2020. Around two o’clock on a Friday. Yeah. And then you know, then gotta remember, you know, my family is like, are you crazy? We’re all hiding out here. We’re like, we’re all like, you know, we were told to stay in our homes and all that. And you’re gonna go sign 25 years lease. And you know, my family was very concerned about that idea. But I said, You think New York’s gonna be like this two years from now. It’s never gonna happen.
Roger Beaudoin 36:20
Yeah, opportunity. But you also there’s
Unknown Speaker 36:26
so so. So lo and behold, make a very long story shorter is that David Freeland said, What’s your lawyer’s number. And he didn’t even counteroffer. He basically accepted my terms, if I would sign it today, or bring it to the lawyers today. Sure. And that’s how we got 25,000 square feet Times Square. And we opened exactly two years later, with Fat Joe and Mary J. Blige hosting an eight song concert.
Roger Beaudoin 36:48
Unbelievable. What I was gonna say is you’re seeing around corners again. And there’s another lesson for our audience about, you know, I’ve got a term it’s called Get yourself bulletproof. And that means you’ve got to be able to anticipate the future, you got to build cash flow so that you are untouchable so that nothing can harm you. And that pandemic is a prime example that no one could have predicted. But yet you took a risk at a time when a lot of people were just digging in their heels and saying, Oh, what are we going to do now? And it’s like, that was the ultimate pivot to take on something that had such tremendous opportunity down the road, and taking that risk, but then having the wherewithal and the resourcefulness and the creativity to say, Okay, I need all these clauses, like you talked about the pandemic clause and all this kind of stuff that literally protect my downside if the downside were ever to happen. So yeah, huge lesson there. That’s Thanks for sharing that.
And I go much more in depth in my book, and I explained that this is the only deal that’s ever been done in our industry, where if I do $5 million a year I break even, yeah, but my projections are 30 million a year. That’s never happened, because of a new project. 30 million you if you do 15, it’s usually you’re out of business. The deal that I created is that if I do 30 million, I’m making a lot of money. But if I do 5 million, I still pay my bills. That’s unheard of. And that’s how we designed the lease. And then three months later, I signed another one for 14,000 feet. And now I’m bringing you back my grandfather’s restaurant that shut down in 1975. Bring you back Papist, to Verona in the West Village. And I’m doing that with the chef of Milos in Agra. So we’re going to do the first woodburning Greek restaurant again, I wanted to disrupt the Greek grass. Yeah, I didn’t want to traditional. Yeah, and everything really roots, because the old way of Greek cooking was not on a grill. It was a wood burning oven with a grill inside it. I’m going back to that style of cooking, which is old school Greek. That’s never been done before. Because Americans have a tendency to, you know, to take a great classic model and make it convenient. But old wood burning cooking is the way Greek cooking was always meant to be. And always was. Yeah, bringing that back with tapas to Varna. And again, I’m disrupting the whole Greek cuisine, the Greek menu, the Greek restaurant,
Roger Beaudoin 39:05
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Roger Beaudoin 40:07
I’ve had some amazing experiences on Mykonos and Santorini with real traditional Greek cuisine, and it is about hospitality. And they make you feel like family when you walk in the door. And it’s simple. And it’s right from the local farm down the road and the wines in the food. Like what a little experience that is, what about your heritage?
Yeah, I’m in Mykonos all the time growing up. I mean, I mean, you’d see a grandma just painting the tiles on the on the on the walkway, you know, and you know, my father always said this, and he ingrain this into my head growing up in the restaurant business, a customer pass 100 doors before they get to yours. And when they finally get to your door, make them feel that much special, because you know what, they had 100 other choices to go to, but they chose you. So you need to reverse that and make them feel like they’re the king of the king of the castle, the queen of the hill. And that’s how I was brought up with my mother and father just literally bending over for any customer that walked in, didn’t matter what they look like, how they were dressed, whatever how old they were. They treated everybody like their extended family in law ball. Every time I had a birthday party where it was like My Big Fat Greek birthday party. Yeah, I, you know, we’d have the waiters and waitresses, and the busboys, all there as guests. You can’t do that today. But that’s how it was back then my parents had the whole restaurant, family, all the employees as an extended family. And that’s how we work.
Roger Beaudoin 41:30
Well, there’s another key lesson there. And you’re speaking from an authentic place in your heart, and you’re the guy answering, you know, people at 330 in the morning, but there is a concept that I want my audience to constantly keep aware of. And that is the lifetime value of a customer or a guest. And by treating one person, like you’re talking about treating them, even if they’re a first time visitor, you’re treating them like an old friend, you’ve known forever, you have no idea how much that one person can impact your business, your restaurant in their own patronage. Everyone they tell about that particular service and hospitality, and every online posts they might share. And every single person has that kind of exponential power to drive your restaurant forward, or you never see that person again.
There’s two parts to that answer. First is before the internet, you’d only hear about a great restaurant at a nail salon, a barber shop, or the shopping mall or a party. Yep. Well, the or the workplace, and that one person could probably catch five people that really love your restaurant. Today, it’s folded by 1000 times, that one person may just have a couple of 100 followers on Instagram, like some restaurants say, oh my god, if they don’t have 50,000 followers, I don’t really care. I’m like, what? You’re getting greedy. And you’re not appreciating the old days. The old days was a bad five people it was a home run. So they have 50 followers or 100 followers on Instagram. Yeah, that’s a number. It’s a potential goldmine is that person you have every person is a journalist. Now they’re going to pick up their phone that take a picture of your food, tag your location to their 50 followers. Are you kidding? That’s huge. It is. Of course, we love the ones with millions of followers. But you know what? The one with 50 is just as important if you just stay with that philosophy. Because if you stay with that philosophy, stay focused, and do it month over month, day after day, hour after hour, that a thing blows up. Because you’re constantly putting out a good product and treating a person properly. And as they keep on hitting you on social media. Eventually the whole thing blows up to your favor.
Roger Beaudoin 43:40
Advantage is what so
many times, you know and another thing I could tell you in North America was put up in it put up a neon saying some of my neon sayings have gotten 16 million views. Some of my neon signs have gotten 10 million views because they take a picture where it says you know spread love. It’s the Brooklyn way. You know, I have in the ladies room. You know, My milkshake brings all the boys to the yard taking like rap fun quotes in the ladies room. The ladies, what? What are they going to do? Yeah, it’s at the bottom self hashtag selfie. I mean, little stuff like that is not expensive. Come up with a really cool quote. We had one that said from Andy Warhol said, fall in love with your eyes closed. You know, we put that up on the wall and got a guy just from Dell Lavanya famous model and puffy P Diddy. It got like 6 million views just from them to it cost me 1500 bucks to put it up on the wall. These are things that we do that prices and you have to you have to gear yourself to the for the social media, the Instagram, the Tick Tock generation, because even the classic lamps that we have on our tables now yeah, they’re professional lighting underneath for food food production. You know, there’s a company that came out took the traditional, beautiful lanterns for your tables and Basically put food lighting, like those little round dots that don’t like the food bloggers will use
Roger Beaudoin 45:04
enhance the athlete presentation of everything delivered to the table.
Oh, we do a before and after. Take a picture of all the food on the table without the light on and then put the light down. Sorry, God, gotta glow. It’s 30% Better,
Roger Beaudoin 45:21
These are the things that restaurant tours should be doing. This is just, you know, we’ve got to focus on that they are going to share this with their guests and you got to look your best.
Roger Beaudoin 45:32
Unbelievable. Let’s talk about the book Stratus you wrote a book and it’s called be a disrupter streetwise lessons for entrepreneurs from mobs to mandates. That’s quite a title. Take us through it. What’s What are you covering? And what’s the crux?
Unknown Speaker 45:47
Yeah, so like I said, the mob has been in and out of my life about three or four times through my career started out when I was a kid on a friendly level, then to the Fulton Fish Market, all on a friendly level. But then it turned nasty on me in 1993 I had a very successful Gotham diner. And we were doing a lot of alcohol business. We had big DJs and it was became like a nightclub in a diner nightclub after 1011 o’clock. So come knocking or John Gotti Jr’s thugs come knocking on my door. And they say we want $5,000 A month and I said for what they said it’s an alcohol tax. I said an alcohol tax to who? That’s the US, we give you protection and you got to pay a piece of your alcohol business to us. And they said, You should be thankful because I know you’re doing more than that. We could probably charge you 10,000 Like we charge other places. But we’re just going to do 5000 with you. I said, Here’s my answer. Go fuck yourself. And that was it. And and I said, I’m not afraid of you guys telling you to go fuck yourself and get the fuck out of my restaurant. Somehow. No, I didn’t at that point. But so, so what they started doing, they’d beat up two of my managers ahead of promotions, they beat them to a pulp to that go the hospital. And they kept on coming back and staring at me at the bar, you got the message. And I would say fuck off, get out. And that was the intervention just just ignored them. But then they started throwing black paint on all my windows, just to show that if they want to break them, they can break them. But the first warning is they’re going to throw black paint and cover my corner store all full of glass. They’re going to cover all the glass with black paint. And they started doing that nightly. So as I’m cleaning it one morning, Rob Coppola, who’s the underboss of the Genovese is a customer of mine. And I know him, you know, I know the circles, you know, the gender VCs ran the Fulton Fish Market, you know, all these guys had respect for me, and I respected them. And every time they came to my restaurant, they always paid and never looked for anything special. And that was the relationship I had with these very important, you know, Mafia types. You know, bosses and under bosses and captains and all that all those guys were like my friends, and never asked me for anything except for these thugs, John Gotti crew in his and his car. It’s a bunch of thugs. And so Rob said, What’s going on here? And I said, Well, I’m trying to be sure they’re trying to shake me down. And he goes, What do you mean? I said, Yeah, God is crew has been here, they Shakedown, everybody on the east side of New York. From from strip clubs to mom and pops to nightclubs. They shake everybody down. Everybody pays a mob tax. I refuse to do so. He said they’re doing that to you. Because this is a place that these guys frequented like five times a week that was like their second home again, oh, he’s paid they sat in the back that had their little bitters and lunches and breakfasts and whatever. Just really nice guys to me. And Rob couple that says Sit tight all I heard two days later, I got a call from one of his guys and said go to ferry a bistro on 65th in Madison, and be there 11 o’clock. I said okay, so I went there 11 o’clock I had known the restaurant know the owner along and I knew in the back all the Gambino Kappos had a dinner like four nights a week in the back like the heavy duty guys like like the like really big important people gotcha cuz I’d see that because I would frequent ferry A and then so when I get there, Rob is there with another soldier of the Genovese is named Bucky carbone, who befriended me years before and we were actually like on first name basis. And we sit down with these five Gambino Kappos and and Rob says, Listen, this guy is around us and I’m like, I am like I really used to be but yeah, I just shut my mouth and listen, this guy is around us, you tell Jr to come correct. Because if he if he continues to harass him, this thing is going to escalate where the five of you at this table will do nothing about it can do nothing about and I’m like, I didn’t realize how big these guys work because the guys that were talking to I knew how big they were. Of course, these guys were like you know, so that difference was they were wearing the $3,000 seats. My guys had a Yankee bomber jacket and a baseball hat. But But meanwhile, they’re the ones that were the most powerful guys in the whole crime world. So within a minute, the cap was like, Hey, we know this Greek kid, he’s a good kid, we actually go to his place will squash this Ralphie Rafi, we’re gonna squash this. Don’t worry about to consider it done. Just tell them. If this continues, where they’re keep threatening this kid, this thing is going to escalate. And it’s going to be a problem. And lo and behold, it was squashed. Fan just like that. And then when I discussed it with my story there Stratus that’s a heavy story. Wow. And when I discussed it with my dad, yeah, I said,
I said, you know, dad, and this is what happened. He’s like, you know, be careful, you may have exchanged one double for another. And I said, I don’t know about that. I don’t think so. And lo and behold, I was right. They never asked me for anything. They kept on coming to the restaurant, they didn’t even ask me to comp them anything for their for their service. They kept on paying their bills. But fast forward to June 94, I opened up my first nightclub. So with knowing those guys, I met their attorney, Patty, Cisco. And Patti stessa was a general counsel, a legitimate lawyer.
And Patty, I needed to raise like 500,000, to take over this old nightclub on 54th and Park Avenue, and converted into a nightclub because that was my dream. As a kid growing up in Garden City, I wanted to own a nightclub in Manhattan. So Patti put up the 500 Grand. And basically, we were in business together. I knew in the back of my mind that that 500 grand was coming from, you know, coming from the Genovesa. Guys, I knew it because right away, I can see that they were involved in the construction. Right, I could see that they were involved in and you know what, at that point, I was like, whatever I know, on record, with the State Liquor Authority, I’m partners with with a legitimate person where he disclosed where he got his money. And I saw the checks coming in. And how he got to that point, it’s none of my business. That’s not my business. And later, he got in trouble with the law for for laundering money, and he actually did prison time. But that’s years years later. But putting that aside, I knew that these guys were basically behind it. And I was kind of okay with it, Roger, because I knew if they’re going to shake me down at Gotham diner, which is 2500 square feet, what are they going to do with 8000 square feet on Park Avenue. So I knew at the end of the day, having Patti as my partner, and having the guys behind me, I was never going to be shaken down. Well, what happened was after the restaurant after the club open, a Jewish gangster came to me from LA. And he was like that he was like the head guy in Los Angeles. He was like the Bugsy Siegel of the time, okay. She came to me. And he sat down with me. And he said, Listen, you know, I want to be a partner here. I said, I don’t need another partner. And he goes, Well, you don’t understand you have no choice. I said, we’re from LA, but we want to be in the nightclub business in New York City. And we figured you’d be a perfect guy that we want to partner with. And I said, I don’t have any interest. And he goes, Well, let me put it to you this way. And he writes down on an app in 10k on a cloth napkin, which pissed me off because it’s not gonna cost like 10 cents. And he’s writing on a cloth napkin with his pen, which was such bad manners that firstly, that really bothered me was yeah, that was a disrespect right there. Yeah. 10,000. He writes $10,000. And he takes out a gun, he pulls out a bullet puts the bullet on the table and the 10 Grand, he says Pick one. I said, Really, we’re gonna go there. I’m saying inside my head, this guy didn’t get the memo. That he’s really in dangerous territories if he thinks he’s going to shake down the most powerful people in the world that are behind my attorney partner. But lo and behold, I said listen to I’m going to discuss it with my partner. And I’ll get back to you. I call Patti. I said, this is going on minutes, I get a call from Rob to meet me at Cafe Tabata, and let’s discuss it. So I knew I wasn’t stupid, that I knew that I had that protection being partners with Paddy, right, right. The legitimate lawyer who I who I adore, and so what happened at that point is Rob says what happened? I told him what happened. He started laughing. He was with two other soldiers. I said, Why are you laughing? This is pretty serious. He called me next year at the time. He says nephew. I got it. Yeah. Tell the guy I want to see him at 11 o’clock Friday night, and we’ll discuss the opportunity. I was like, I was like, fuck that. Yeah, he showed me a bullet. You guys want to discuss the opportunity. But anyway, I walked in the club at 11 o’clock that night. There they are having champagne having a great old time. We’re often the Jewish gangster having a great old time champagne, this and that. And, and I’m like, I’m like, Wow. I guess they don’t really care about somebody threatening my life. But literally around 430 In the morning when this guy is all juiced up and drunk. I heard rob it was in the VIP room. There was nobody left in the room. And I went up to I said How you guys doing? He goes nephew. We’re doing well. Thank you the idea to get out like leave. Literally, I heard Rob said here’s my counteroffer to the offer that you made my net View. It picks up a 60 pound candelabra that you need to like three or four hands to pick up. Yeah, drop is so strong picks up on one hand. Yeah. And he hits him right over the head. Amazing. And as this hat as this happens, you know the other guys, you know, the other soldier guys escort me out. Because then I’m a civilian. They don’t want me to see such a thing. So I left in a taxi. They locked the door. I don’t know what happened was, it was a fight going on. They got me out of the out of the club before I could see what happened. But I know the guy really got hurt hard. Yeah. And the only thing the only thing I saw like I write in my book is The next day the only thing that I saw different was that the big area 20 foot carpet was gone. And that was it. I don’t know what it was because it was stained, or whatever or than like,
I don’t know what happened to him. Yeah. But all I know is that these were the stories pre Giuliani in New York City and hospitality. You had to decide Roger, what side of the fence you are going to be on. If you are going to say, You know what, I’m on the side of the fence, or I’m just going to cut these guys checks every month. I know. Or you’re going to sit back, fight it. Take a stand, guys, and have at least have some of those guys in your back pocket if needed. Just that a friendship? Yes. They were there just for friendship. They may have made an investment through Patty STIs. Oh, I’ll never know. Yeah. And Rouge made a lot of money. But these are the kinds of stories that we dealt with pre Giuliani in New York City.
Roger Beaudoin 56:22
That’s really amazing. You’ve shared so much with us. We talked about hospitality. We talked about innovation. We talked about relevance and staying ahead of the curve, creative ideas that really build your business and your book. Be a disruptor by Stratus Morfogen. Stratis, you’ve been a great guest on the podcast. I can’t thank you enough for being with us today.
Thank you. Thanks for having me.
Roger Beaudoin 56:44
That was the restaurant rockstars podcast. Thanks to our audience for tuning in. I wish you all to stay well. We’ll see you again in the next episode. Thank you. Stratus what an amazing conversation. You are truly a restaurateurs, restaurateur, so many great stories, so much great learnings. You’ve seen it all. And there’s so much ahead for you. So we wish you the best of success. And thanks again for joining me on the podcast. Thanks also to this week’s sponsors plateIQ popmenu Davo and SRV the restaurant training app at SRV.now.com. Hope you all stay well. Can’t wait to see you next time. Stay tuned.
Roger Beaudoin 57:28
People go to restaurants for lots of reasons. What the customer doesn’t know is the 1000s of details it takes to run a great restaurant. This is a high risk high fail business. It’s a treacherous road and SMART operators need a professional guide. I’m Roger. I’ve started many highly successful high profit restaurants. I’m passionate about helping other owners and managers not just succeed but knock it out of the park. You don’t just want to run a restaurant. You want to dominate your competition and create a lasting legacy. Join the academy and I’ll show you how it’s done.
Thanks for listening to the restaurant rockstars podcast for lots of great resources, head over to restaurant rockstars.com See you next time.
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