You also mentioned how the landlord first told you to get lost, then ultimately backed down. Do you suppose this speaks to the larger issue of the economy? I’ve been hearing that landlords who were previously opposed to food uses are now welcoming restaurateurs with open arms. They’ll take whatever they can get.
The landlord only agreed to talk to me when he knew I was connected to Balthazar. For the first three years I didn’t mention it.
What is the timeline of that project?
Unfortunately, I build slowly and expensively—it’ll take a year from now.
Earlier word on the street was that Morandi was going to be your last eatery. Now you have two more in the works. What made you change your mind?
I didn’t plan to open another restaurant after Morandi. But The Times and New York magazine reviews for Morandi were so awful I didn’t want to bow out with a whimper. I’ve already done that with my love life.
Obviously, it’s an interesting time to be opening a new restaurant, as some high-profile places around town are shuttering amid this grim economic situation. Some operators are talking about business being down 30 to 40 percent. How does fine dining survive in this economy? How must restaurateurs adapt?
How do restaurants survive in this economy? Who knows? I don’t. And nor does anyone who says they do. Ultimately, I think one does what one’s always done. In my case, it’s stabbing people in the back and sleeping with my friends’ wives.
You mentioned earlier that the more interesting restaurants tend to be in neighborhoods with really cheap rents. With the economy in ruins and rents actually beginning to recede, does this bode well for the development of new, interesting restaurants?
In theory, lower rents make it easier for those without a fortune to rent a decent space, and of course that’s a very good thing. The drawback is, there’s less money around so the risk is much higher. But, overall, I think a bad economy will bring about more interesting restaurants—although I’m not suggesting mine will be among them.
What has most changed about the New York restaurant business since you first got into the game? Has the real estate component become too much of a factor?
The emergence of blogs and the rabid greediness with which most reviewers now review new places has had a very detrimental effect on restaurants. I put the majority of landlords in the same category because, in their similarly greedy way, they’ve also damaged the restaurant landscape. But the majority of restaurateurs are equally greedy, particularly those who are self-important enough to pay homage to the ludicrous James Beard Awards. In the end, there’s just so much bullshit out there!