– follow John –www.tastingtable.com
WHAT DO YOU DO AND HOW DID YOU GET HERE?
As CEO of Mercer Street Hospitality, I have small cluster of downtown restaurants (Lure Fishbar, Bowery Meat Company, El Toro Blanco, B&B, Sessanta), I also co-founded Tasting Table (a digital food & Lifestyle publication); but mostly I create and then work to make people happy with the experience so they return. It's a combination of hospitality, food, and media – chaos.
WHAT DID YOU WANT TO BE GROWING UP?
At a very early age I thought I would be a professional athlete of some kind but soon I knew I would likely go into some type of business. I made a hard right turn after graduating from Columbia University and instead of going to Wall Street ended up opening up MercBar (1993) which at the time seemed like it was so risky that it would last a year at best and then I’d be back looking to get a real job. Luckily that luck lasted 22 years and was the spark that got me to where I am now, and still mostly on Mercer Street.
WHAT'S YOUR GREATEST INSPIRATION?
It may seem cliché but my parents are really that for me. They have set the ideal example of selflessness, hard work and dedication to both each other and to the concept of always moving forward no matter what obstacles stand in front of you. They inspire me to make the most out of everything I do, and show them their work was worth the effort.
DO YOU HAVE A FAVORITE HOTEL IN THE WORLD?
Somewhere I recently stayed, the JK Place Rome. Located on a small side street in the middle of Rome this hotel hits every possible luxury expectation I think anyone can expect.
HOW DO YOU FEEL SOCIAL MEDIA HAS CHANGED THE WAY PEOPLE TRAVEL, PARTICULARLY AS IT RELATES TO THEIR DINING CHOICES?
It has changed mostly because there is very little “discovery” left to digest because by the time we arrive we have already seen and heard so much that the feeling of a “revealing moment” is gone. As for dining it helps in the sense that you can rely heavily on your friends for true insider info up to the minute, which ultimately helps make better decisions.
A CULINARY EXPERIENCE CAN MAKE OR BREAK A TRIP - ANY MEMORABLE MEALS FROM YOUR TRAVELS?
There was one trip I took with Jean-Georges Vongerichten a few years back with several of his chefs and we ate a complete traditional Yakitori meal where they serve nearly the entire chicken raw – yes, raw. It may have not been delicious but it was memorable and to this day we all routinely talk about trying to hide the embryo they tried to serve us so that the Japanese hosts did not see us not participating. That same trip we by far had some of the best sushi as well, so it was balanced between the very strange and absolutely world-class.
WHAT IS THE BIGGEST CHANGE YOU'VE SEEN IN THE INDUSTRY?
It’s much harder to get things done; many more obstacles with regulations, permitting, and in general the cost to operate today is taking an already slim margin business and making it nearly impossible unless you are doing big volume. In a few years I am skeptical that young operators/entrepreneurs will be able to absorb the many new layers that are going to be required to run a bar or restaurant.
WHAT WILL YOU BE DOING TEN YEARS FROM NOW?
I hope in part the very same I am doing now, yet on the other end something entirely new and challenging. I try to not set limits or restrictions on such goals.
ANY CAREER ANECDOTES YOU'D LIKE TO SHARE?
Always be the hardest worker in the room and you are the only one that knows if you're giving 100% effort so if you are cheating, it only holds you back. And to that point, Vince Lombardi said, “The only place success comes before work is in the dictionary.”
IF YOU COULD HAVE A DINNER PARTY FOR ANYONE, DEAD OR ALIVE, WHO WOULD YOU INVITE AND WHY?
I just finished watching the History Channel Series on Astor, Rockefeller, JP Morgan….I would love to set a table for those guys and see what they would do in today’s world, what kinds of decisions they would make and see their reaction to the conditions of what they all created remain.