The Longest Siege: The Ciprianis in Court
Who owns Cipriani International?
The question, which has intrigued members of New York’s restaurant industry for years, was put to Giuseppe Cipriani at a bankruptcy court conference at the lower Manhattan office of the United States Trustee on July 14. Mr. Cipriani, the vice president of Vittoria Corporation–which does business as Harry Cipriani, the family’s flagship restaurant located in the Sherry Netherland Hotel on Fifth Avenue–was being questioned in the matter of Vittoria’s Chapter 11 bankruptcy.
Although he was under oath, Mr. Cipriani was not being deposed, a situation where he could have been compelled to answer the question by the judge presiding over the bankruptcy case. So perhaps it was not surprising that his answer was, well, rather Italian.
“I cannot answer that question,” said Mr. Cipriani.
When Mr. Cipriani wasn’t being tight-lipped, he was often being vague, even though he had told assistant bankruptcy trustee Gregory Zipes that he was “quite familiar” with Vittoria Corporation’s financial affairs.
(When Mr. Zipes wondered why Mr. Cipriani’s father, Arrigo Cipriani, did not show for the conference, Mr. Cipriani figlio said only: “He couldn’t make it.”)
When the trustee asked Mr. Cipriani where Vittoria’s books and records were kept, the 34-year-old scion of the Cipriani restaurant empire replied, “I don’t know that,” then offered that they might be kept at the Ciprianis’ East 42nd Street offices.
At other times, the transcript of the conference, which was obtained by The Transom, sounded like an Italian version of the old Abbott and Costello “Who’s on First?” routine:
Trustee: “Who owns Cipriani SBA [sic]?”
Mr. Cipriani: “Approximately the majority is owned by an [inaudible] Corporation.”
Trustee: “What’s the name of that company?”
Mr. Cipriani: “Cipriani International.”
Trustee: “You said it’s partly owned by that?”
Mr. Cipriani: “Yes.”
Trustee: “What is the other company that owns it?”
Mr. Cipriani: “I don’t know.”
(A spokesman for Mr. Cipriani said, “Giuseppe answered the questions properly.”)
Save for a little nugget that Mr. Cipriani dropped about Harry Cipriani’s monthly rent (see below), the restaurateur’s performance was par for the course in what has amounted to a stubborn and vitriolic standoff between the Venetian restaurant family, which has long catered to the city’s jet set and Eurotrash contingent, and Local 6 of the Hotel, Restaurant and Club Employees and Bartenders Union.
The family and the union have been at war since January, when Local 6 claimed that the Ciprianis eliminated more than 200 union positions from the penultimate jewel in their tiramisù tiara, the Rainbow Room. They have been picketing the restaurateurs’ establishments ever since. In June, Mr. Cipriani told The Transom that the union’s members were behaving like a “bunch of outlaws” and that he had “no intention” of sitting down to negotiate with the union because “they are the wrong bunch.”
But on Aug. 17, as representatives of the union and the Cipriani organization held one more sitdown, the perception was that the situation was getting down to the short hairs.
Eva Talel, an attorney for the Sherry Netherland Hotel, the landlord for Harry Cipriani, told The Transom that Vittoria “has until Sept. 8 to either assume or reject the lease.” In the latter case, they would give up their lucrative location, Harry Cipriani’s, in the Sherry Netherland. Ms. Talel then explained that if the Ciprianis were to “assume” the lease, they would have to “live up to all terms [of the lease], which includes honoring the collective bargaining agreement with Local 6 in all respects.”
If the Ciprianis decided to assume the Sherry Netherland lease, they would have to bow to an arbitrator’s decision and post a $400,000 bond amounting to three months’ wages and benefits for the unionized Harry Cipriani staff. The bond is meant to protect the workers in case the restaurant closes without paying its obligations. Ironically, some union sources contend that the Ciprianis filed for Chapter 11 to avoid posting that bond.
In July, Mr. Cipriani tried to neutralize Local 6 by announcing that he had signed an agreement with another union, Local 810 of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, which represents metal fabricators and warehousemen. When president of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, James Hoffa objected to the deal, it fell apart in two days.
On top of that, Local 6 has been effective in putting a big chill on catering events at the Rainbow Room and Cipriani 42nd Street, which once housed the Bowery Savings Bank. One union source said that, save for a few small parties at the Rainbow Room, there have been few events at either venue. Most recently, the source said, there were indications that the producers of Saturday Night Live were going to move their 25th anniversary show after-party, scheduled for Sept. 26, from the Rainbow Room to another location. A spokesman for SNL said, however, “I don’t think they’ve committed to any place yet.”
And on Aug. 28, when Cipriani maître d’ Sergio Vacca is married at the Rainbow Room, the union plans to stage its own wedding–of two giant inflatable rats (“properly attired,” according to one union source). A wedding register, which features a $350 sapphire-studded rat wheel, will also be distributed.
With the annual base rent for the Rainbow Room at $4 million, the loss of business can’t be making the Ciprianis happy. (And Giuseppe Cipriani is said to become especially livid when the inflatable rats are wheeled out.)
Harry Cipriani’s lease at the Sherry Netherland is much more affordable, according to statements made by Mr. Cipriani during the bankruptcy conference on July 14.
Asked how much the restaurant paid a month in rent, Mr. Cipriani said “an average of 3 percent of sales,” which he said amounted to between $15,000 and $20,000 a month. This would indicate that Harry Cipriani is grossing somewhere between $6 million and $8 million a year.
That’s a lot of income for a restaurant that’s in Chapter 11 bankruptcy.
In the bankruptcy filing, Vittoria Corporation listed the restaurant’s 1998 gross operating revenues at $7,552,979. But the bankruptcy petition claimed the restaurant’s liabilities outweigh its assets by more than $600,000. Still, the largest creditor listed in the case is the Venice, Italy-based Cipriani S.P.A., which accounts for more than $728,000 of the restaurant’s debt.
When the trustee asked Mr. Cipriani, “How do you expect to take this [restaurant] out of Chapter 11?” the restaurateur seemed to mention an effort, purportedly proposed by the restaurant’s employees, to decertify the union at Harry Cipriani. “That would save the restaurant $200,000 a year,” Mr. Cipriani said, a comment that seems to bolster accusations that the Ciprianis’ bankruptcy filing is directly tied to its union woes.
“Is that the only thing you intend to do?” the trustee asked Mr. Cipriani.
“Right now,” he replied.
Lopez Says Basta!
Postprandial pictures are not actress-singer Jennifer Lopez’s preference. DMI Photo owner David McGough is still unhappy over the alleged treatment one of his photographers got at the hands of Ms. Lopez’s bodyguards. Mr. McGough said that on July 22 one of his shutterbugs, Tom Zubak, attempted to take a picture of Ms. Lopez and the singer Mark Antony, with whom she’s occasionally linked, as the couple and a large group of people exited a West 54th Street restaurant called the Iguana.
Mr. McGough then claimed that, as Ms. Lopez and Mr. Antony sought refuge in her limousine, two of Ms. Lopez’s bodyguards “jumped” on top of Mr. Zubak and grabbed his camera in an attempt to remove the film. He alleged that the bodyguards also attempted to flip Mr. Zubak, whom he described as “a perfectly nice guy,” onto his back.
“They broke his flash and they twisted his arm behind his back,” said Mr. McGough. “Then, another bodyguard came out of her car and told the two bodyguards, ‘Jennifer says that’s enough.’” Mr. McGough said Mr. Zubak did not file a police report. He also said he didn’t get the shot. Mr. McGough said he could understand that Ms. Lopez might not have wanted to be photographed, but he added, “We’re hardly paparazzi.”
“The funny thing is,” he said, “we’ve worked for Jennifer Lopez. We’ve been hired to shoot her parties.”
Calls to Ms. Lopez’s publicist at Sony Music went unanswered. A call to her publicist at Rogers & Cowan had also not been returned at press time. Stanley Szambelak, assistant manager at Iguana N.Y., confirmed that Ms. Lopez and Mr. Antony had been in for dinner on July 22, but he said that he worked the door most of the night and did not see the alleged incident. “I would have to say that’s probably false,” Mr. Szambelak said of Mr. McGough’s report.
Beat poet Gregory Corso (“Bomb”) was listed–along with musician David Amram and Fugs founder Ed Sanders–as one of the hosts of the premiere on Aug. 16 of The Source , Chuck Workman’s documentary about the Beat movement and its core, Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac and William Burroughs. “He’s like the Fourth Beat,” said Mr. Workman of Mr. Corso. But the director told The Transom that shortly before the premiere and the after-party, which took place at, respectively, the Film Forum and the Nuyorican Poets Cafe, Mr. Corso called to say he wasn’t coming because he wasn’t feeling well. Then Mr. Corso copped to the real reason he wasn’t coming. “He said to me, ‘I do feel O.K., but I don’t want to come because there’s so much joyfulness around the Beats, and all I think of are all the people who are dead,” Mr. Workman recalled. “And it makes me sad, and that makes me drink, and I don’t want to drink.” Mr. Corso was a very close friend of Mr. Ginsberg, who died in 1997. Indeed, in a new book by writer John Tytell and his wife, photographer Mellon Tytell, Paradise Outlaws: Remembering the Beats , Mr. Tytell writes that when they met in 1950, Mr. Corso and Ginsberg “discovered they were unconsciously accomplices in a strange voyeurism: Corso had been masturbating while watching Ginsberg through the window making love with a woman … who lived across the street.”
Mr. Workman said that even though he didn’t make the party, Mr. Corso called The Source “a great fuckin’ film, except for a couple scenes.” Added Mr. Workman: “He meant the scenes that he was in.”
The Transom Also Hears
… How many photos of actor Steven Dorff does anyone need? When Mr. Dorff ( Blade ) and some friends showed up at Match 5 of the Bridgehampton Polo Club’s Mercedes-Benz Polo Challenge on Aug. 14 accompanied by publicist Lara Shriftman, photographers reached for their cameras. But, according to photographers who were at the event, Ms. Shriftman discouraged any photo-taking of Mr. Dorff and company (even though a number of photographers did not heed this request). Apparently, Mr. Dorff was appearing at an event later that evening, the Polo Jeans Summer Splash Benefit, which Ms. Shriftman’s firm was handling, and though she denied this, the photographers opined that Ms. Shriftman wanted to insure that if the tabloids printed any celebrity cheesecake shots of Mr. Dorff in the Hamptons (Yesss, things are slow these days), that the pictures would be plugging one of her events. Still, the situation is a bit complicated because while the polo matches are publicized by London Misher Public Relations (which is not supposed to be on the friendliest of terms with Harrison & Shriftman, the firm in which Ms. Shriftman is a partner), Mercedes-Benz is one of Ms. Shriftman’s clients, which means that she should be promoting the polo matches as well. Ms. Shriftman vehemently denied that she discouraged shots of Mr. Dorff (and she encouraged some friends who were at the event to call and vouch for her). “There would be no way that I would bring them to a media event and not expect photographs to be taken and serviced,” said Ms. Shriftman. “Mercedes-Benz has been my client for three years, and they’re a very important client to me, and this is a most absurd accusation.”
… To the amazement of many, the latest reconciliation of Warner LeRoy and his ex-wife Kay LeRoy continues apace. (None were more amazed than this column, which reported that Mr. LeRoy had brought attorney Jay Goldberg on to prepare an appeal of a July court decision that gave his wife approximately 40 percent of his estate.) The Transom hears that Mrs. LeRoy has moved back into Mr. LeRoy’s spacious West 66th Street home. And now the organizers of a Sept. 22 party for Peter Maas’ new book, The Terrible Hours: The Man Behind the Greatest Submarine Rescue in History , have a real selling point to lure a big crowd. Mr. LeRoy is co-hosting the party, with Harper Collins chief executive Jane Friedman at his home, and publicists are promising–more than a month ahead of time!–that Mrs. LeRoy will be in the house.