Everywhere, finance guys are shedding the three-piece-suit, going into the restaurant industry, and seriously rocking it. This week we sat down with one of the greatest examples of this trend – ex-financier Sean Largotta of Crown Group Hospitality – who taught us a bit about the numbers game that is restaurateur-ing (He still hasn’t dropped three-piece suits, but why would he when he looks that awesome in them?). For those unfamiliar, Crown Group Hospitality is the circle of restaurants that includes The Lion, Bill’s Food and Drink, Crown, London’s Red House and Windsor, usually all known to be headed only by brilliant chef-star John DeLucie. This week we learned that some of the greatest success in the food industry comes from having the very best food guy paired with the very best business guy – and Sean is the best. We’ve never looked at a menu as a mathematical formula, or a table setting as a make or break career choice that affects the revenue stream, but this is how Largotta sees the world. It’s what so much of his success stems from. He has yet to miss – a feat not to be taken lightly in the restaurant world. That’s why we hung with him at the private room in Bill’s for a long, but not winded talk…
From start to finish, what would be your ideal food day?
I would normally start off at an Italian espresso shop like Sant Ambroeus. I’d hit the gym and then probably go to Via Quadronno for lunch. I love that spot – very old school Italian. Then one of our favorite places is Emilio’s Ballato. I bring my family there for birthday parties; my family would probably rather eat there than at my own restaurants. We go there a lot when I get time off. [My ideal day] is usually Italian-driven. If not, I go to my sushi places, which are pretty boring. Sushi of Gari uptown, Momoya in Chelsea…
How did this restaurant (Bill’s Food & Drink) come about? What was the original concept?
I came here a long time ago, when it was just Bill’s Gay Nineties Piano. Then my partner Mark [Amadei] came here and spoke to the landlord. We like old spaces. The Waverly Inn, Windsor, The Lion…It’s kind of what we embrace. Then we brought Meg Sharpe in – she’s an amazing designer – and we came in and saw the bones of the place and it was just too good to pass up. It’s our biggest restaurant. We do lunch, dinner, and tons of parties. It’s a full townhouse. You get that tavern/saloon feel downstairs, but it’s completely different than the main dining room on the second floor. Then you come up here [to the third floor], and it’s really like an old gentleman’s lounge. We really cater to three different types of groups – and for Midtown, that’s unusual. If you look at any of our other restaurants, we don’t really have that kind of flexibility. We’ve had big fashion parties, guys coming in who work in asset management, and girls who just come in to have cocktails and listen the piano guy playing. It’s pretty cool. You go from one floor to the other and see the energy change. It’s pretty dynamic – and one of the oldest restaurants in New York.
We wanted it to feel like the townhouse was passed from one generation to another. So we started with time period – which I think is 1869. We started getting art from 1869 and all the way up to now (the would-be great great grandson). Ironically, we told the landlord that and it turned out it was passed on, without us knowing, through four generations within his family. So it was kind of funny! It was fascinating hearing that story.
Design-wise, how do you create these timeless spaces that aren’t just a flash in the pan? How do you toe that line between trendy and timeless?
With The Lion, for instance, these amazing fixtures were just buried in the sixties and seventies. We just really embraced the bones of it and didn’t play with it too much. We enhance the space – and we always feel comfortable in those kinds of place. We travel a lot for the restaurants; we go to auctions and antique shops and bring a kind of credibility to the space. We don’t force it either. We’d rather see the space be itself.
We’re fortunate to be in three amazing townhouses. On 81st and Madison [Crown], we have this stunning thirty-five foot wide townhouse, in limestone. We have a thirty-foot skylight and one of the oldest skylights in a townhouse in New York City. That’s history.