How did you get into the culinary industry?
Raised in communist Yugoslavia, it was very important to have a practical trade. As fate would have it, “practical” was not to be. When I went to pick my career track at school, the only spot open was hospitality. Fortunately, I fell in love instantly and have not looked back since.
Tell us about 21 Club. What inspired the idea and what is your vision for the restaurant?
‘21’ is a restaurant icon in both New York City and the world as a whole. The rich history and personal connection guests of generations have with the restaurant is truly incredible, and I am honored to chosen to be at the helm. After 85 years of operation, my vision has been to revitalize ‘21’ for the 21st century. For a historic property to remain relevant, it is vital to stay authentic to the past while always remaining current and up to date with the needs and wants of today’s guests.
What industry trends are you noticing and how do you capitalize on them?
For ‘21’, we have seen a shift to a younger clientele. Professionals in the early-mid thirties are now looking for dining and drinking destinations that offer authenticity and sophisticated fun rather than hype and flash. This fits perfectly at ‘21’. We built Bar ‘21’ in September 2011, and have been able to capitalize on this new space to offer these younger guests a gateway into the ‘21’ brand. As such, we have seen tremendous growth in our bar business and these guests have begun experiences the other ‘21’ offerings as well including our a la carte dining rooms (the famous Bar Room and intimate Upstairs at ‘21’) and our ten beautiful private dining rooms.
In regards to our private events, we have begun capitalizing on the industry trend of increased Scotch and Whisky consumption. While always popular spirits at ‘21’, there has been an increased demand to include tastings in events where in the past, tastings were primarily focused on wines. We have incorporate Scotch and Whisky masters into our private event offerings to great success.
Always be fair and strive for perfection. Take every opportunity to listen and learn.
21 Club's Motto?
We are creators of memorable experiences.
Your greatest success as GM of 21 Club thus far? Most difficult moment-how did you overcome and what did you learn?
‘21’ has over one hundred and seventy associates, many of whom have worked here for decades. Change is always difficult. Thus far, my greatest success has been to have them share and understand my vision for the future of ‘21’.
My most significant challenge has been altering the culinary offerings. It is in my nature to act and in the NYC restaurant industry, we are groomed to act quickly. With both guests and associates having very passionate opinions about the culinary experience at ‘21, it took quite a bit of patience and focused communication to make changes, and I changed almost the entire culinary management team. The process was slow, but we achieved our goals and the culinary program at ‘21’ today is the strongest that it has ever been. We elevated the classics dishes to new levels and incorporated contemporary selections that appeal to modern palate without straying too far from tradition.
Your advice to an aspiring Restaurateur?
Have patience and never give up. Most importantly, lead by example. It is essential to show your associates that you will do anything you are asking of them. “Get in the trenches”.
Describe the ideal experience at 21 Club.
The jewel of ‘21’ is our incredible Prohibition-era wine cellar. The ultimate ‘21’ experience would start with cocktails and canapés in Bar ‘21’ and Lounge. Then, you are led through the famous Bar Room with its unbelievable collection of guest memorabilia and the kitchen in action. Down a flight of stairs you are presented with the incredible history of ‘21’s days as a speakeasy as you wonder just how do you access the secret wine cellar. Once inside, Chef Sylvain Delpique will wow you with a six course tasting of sumptuous cuisine perfectly paired with the finest wines from our Grand Award-winning wine list. Nothing in NYC can compare.
How important are architecture/design to the success of 21 Club?
Architecture and design are vital to ‘21’. From the iron gates and 33 jockeys standing sentry outside to the “toys’ in the Bar Room and unsurpassed art collections hanging from our walls, these elements are the DNA of ‘21’. They connect us to the past and add a unique component to every guest experience. Even after 18 months, I constantly learn something new or spot a piece that I haven’t seen yet.
How do you motivate your employees?
For me, motivation comes from open communication and an open door. I make it a point to keep all of our associates informed about the state of our business and my plans for the future, and I want them to be comfortable to come to me with any of their ideas or concerns.
One food and drink left on earth, what would you choose?
I am a man of simple tastes. Steak tartare, a double cut pork chop and a glass of Quintessa Cabernet.
What literature is on your bed stand?
The Bible and book on Italian wines.
Role model – business and personal?
My father was a very strong role model in my personal life. He taught me what it means to be a man and a father, and I miss him dearly.
Professionally, Mr. Ali Kasikci, Belmond Regional Director of North America, Mexico and the Caribbean, has taught me profound lessons about the hospitality industry and business in general. Every time we speak, I learn something new.
Favorite travel destination?
My hometown of Zadar on the Adriatic Sea in Croatia.
What's next for 21 Club?
I have so many ideas for the future of ‘21’ and we have a great many wonderful initiatives on the calendar. As I mentioned earlier, revitalizing the property has been a big part of my vision for the property. In that vein, I am working on freshening up the exterior of the property and restoring the iconic jockeys that line our gates. While they are off getting a shave and a haircut, we are researching the exact origin of each jockey and will be reaching out to the stables they represent. In addition, we are continuing to expand our culinary offerings by bringing back some interaction and spectacle to the dining room with table side offerings coming soon.