Thought No. 11: Sunday / by Jennifer Wisniewski

"The Three Wise Men"

In life and in business, I learn as I go. Some skills come naturally – and others are lessons I've been taught. When thinking upon my “education” in this business, there are three men that come to mind. Each has been in my life for over 20 years and they embody the character traits it takes to thrive in the hospitality industry. The following story is an ode to them – well: an ode and a thank you.

The three wise men:

#1: Herb Rosen (owner of Liar’s Club) was married to my sister at one time. We've become (though, I guess we always were) brother and sister. I’ve watched the way he’s done business for years – and it hasn’t wavered: when you buy Liar’s Club, you buy Herb. There is no difference between the man and the bar – they are synonymous. When you buy a drink – you buy Herb. The music that you’re listening to? Herb listens to it. The beer you’re drinking? (“poo-poo-pee-pee-caca”) He named it. In most restaurant/bars, it’s just a business plan – a formula of what a restaurant owner believes to be trendy and a way to make money off that. Herb’s bar is the embodiment of his ideology, which is to “Have a great time tonight!" because "Who cares about tomorrow?!” (Plus: he loves KISS.) He taught me to be your business and put yourself on the line. "If they don’t get it: kick them out and tell them to go fuck themselves." Obviously I would never say that to a customer – but you get my point.

#2: Next up is Donnie Madia (Owner & Operator of One Off Hospitality Group). We dated for a period of time. I never worked with him – but Blackbird was in the process of opening, when we were together. I’ve watched his business evolve from that one restaurant, to seven restaurants – and counting. Certain aspects of his character have served him well for this business. He is fastidious, as far as details go – and you can see that in all of his spaces. Aesthetics are very important – and he knew that. Attention to detail translates to the customer. It tells them that you care about their dollar and are grateful they chose to spend it at your restaurant. Donnie was also a great facilitator of relationships. He could easily recognize talent and bring people together. It takes more than one person to run a successful restaurant. If you don’t have a solid team, working together toward the same goal – it will dissolve. He also knew that publicity was just as important for the owner as it was for the chef. He was a pioneer in that aspect – making sure that the press and the customers knew the person behind the concept, to gain credibility and garner the buzz that keeps the doors open.

#3: Last, but not least: Mr. Michael Nahabedian (Co-Owner & Operator of Naha and Brindille.) We were married at one time, and I worked with him in his restaurants. No one – and I mean no one – can make a guest feel more welcomed and validated than Michael. It’s a gift – like fairy dust he sprinkles on them, as they walk in the door. Whenever anyone meets him they say, “He’s so charming!” (Yep, You’ve been Naha’ed!) Mary, my sister, calls him “The Greek Tycoon.” He can make you forget all your troubles in half a second. There is another facet of his character that has been beneficial to his success, other than his charm: his knowledge about his business is vast. There is nothing about food or wine that he can’t tell you. Many people get into this game and think that experience or knowledge isn’t essential. Michael taught me that knowing the restaurant business, from the inside-out, is the only way to succeed.

As Bread & Wine approaches its fourth year in business this week, I wonder how we've made it. Does our success lie in the values I've learned from these three men? Are the lessons they’ve taught me the very reason their own restaurants have been open for more than 60 years combined? They are all authentic, eccentric and smart – but they are also very good, hard working people. Maybe that’s it: the simplest recipe is always the most fruitful.