April 20, 2011
DELLA FEMINA RESTAURANT IS SOLD
In the beginning it was a dream.
I would own a restaurant in East Hampton.
It would be a warm, beautiful place with great food and wonderful service.
It would become one of the most popular restaurants in the Hamptons.
It would be a place my entire family – my kids, their spouses, my grandkids and our friends – would enjoy scrumptious feasts where we would all sit and just revel in our love for good food and each other.
Like I said, it was a dream. But then, it happened.
In 1993 I was part of a group that bought a building at 99 North Main Street. North Main Street at the time was viewed as being on "the other side of the tracks" compared to the rest of East Hampton. The building at one time used to house a terrible Chinese restaurant where, at the dingy bar, more drugs were sold than egg rolls. I decided to build a restaurant on that site.
It was an impetuous snap decision. That's the way it is with dreams. What did I know about running a restaurant? Exactly what I know today, 18 years later: nothing. But not knowing something is never bad – you can always learn, but thinking you know it all can be fatal.
I sought out and got help from a great restaurateur, Drew Nieporent. Without his help in the early days, we would never have made it. I worked with a wonderful architect, Frank Greenwald, and together we designed a beautiful restaurant. A talented artist, the late Kathe Tanous, made caricatures of our guests. Martha Stewart, Howard Stern, Billy Joel and 50 other Hamptons notables and customers went up on our walls.
With the help of Jane Lapin, a magician with flowers, we built a handsome planter outside the restaurant, filled it with fresh flowers, and suddenly North Main Street took on a nifty new look.
So why am I selling one of the most successful restaurants in East Hampton?
In 2008 I watched Barack Obama run over Hillary Clinton to become our President.
From the very first "Yes We Can" and "Change You Can Believe In," I decided that this country was falling in love with an attractive, great-speechmaking hustler/socialist who, if he got into office, was going to pursue his agenda to destroy the best health care in the world and re-distribute wealth. Yours and mine.
I told my friends that from that moment on everything I owned – my houses, my advertising business, my newspaper and my restaurant – was for sale.
A lot of people have come around to my way of thinking, but there is no way in the world that Barack Obama won't be reelected in 2012.
If you think that Obama's plan for over-taxing everyone but the 46 percent who don't pay any income tax (including his friend Jeffery Imholt and General Electric) will stop after he's re-elected in 2012, you are naïve.
Why does this so go against my grain? Maybe it's because of where I've come from to get to where I am. I've been broke, so broke with a wife and kids and no job that I had to borrow money from my parents, who didn't have it for themselves but always managed to come up with it for me.
I got lucky and worked day and night and built a great advertising agency. I have employed thousands of people in my lifetime. I've been good to them and they have been good to me.
I'm just not ready to have my wealth redistributed. I'm not ready to pay more tax money than the next guy because I provide jobs and because I work a 60-hour week and I earn more than $250,000 a year.
So why am I dropping out? Read a brilliant book by Ayn Rand called Atlas Shrugged, and you'll know.
But this should not be about my politics, but about my restaurant. Over the last 14 years, the restaurant has been managed by Walter Struble. He has made it what it is today.
All I provided was my name and my support. He and my brilliant chef made it all happen. The kitchen at Della Femina Restaurant has been run by Michael Rozzi for the last nine years. (He's worked in our kitchen for 16 years.) He is a good man who loves his work. He is, in my opinion, the best chef on the East End, and one of the best chefs in the country.
Struble and Rozzi are stars. If you are an entrepreneur or a person with a dream and you want to build yourself a great restaurant, give your financial support to Struble and Rozzi and stand back and let them do for you what they have done for me.
A note about the people who have bought Della Femina Restaurant and will be opening the new East Hampton Grill at 99 North Main Street on or around Memorial Day: They're good people. You're going to like them. Their restaurant, The Palm Beach Grill, is by far the best restaurant in Palm Beach. I have every reason to believe that in a short while, The East Hampton Grill will be the best restaurant on the East End. A word to the wise: Make your reservations now.
So what's the sense memory I have as I leave Della Femina Restaurant?
It was a hot July night. We had a table for 17 in the garden at the restaurant. I started the evening with an ice-cold Absolut Peppar vodka martini straight up with plenty of olives on the side. My wonderful son Michael had the same. My son-in-law John was drinking a double Johnny Walker scotch. Everyone else was drinking wine or Diet Coke.
On the far end of the table sat my wife, the beautiful Judy Licht, engrossed in a conversation with my four-year-old grandson Charlie.
I sat there sipping my drink, looking at my family. "There's a wonderful Jewish word to describe what I'm doing," I thought. "The word is 'kvelling' (beaming)."
The food arrived, everyone was eating and laughing and loving being with each other. Across the table my grandson Zach and my son J.T. were eating steaks with extra wine sauce. There were oysters for my granddaughter Beanie (Annabel), who fell in love with the taste at the age of three.
I smiled at my youngest grandkid, Maggie, who had more spaghetti and butter on her face than in her tiny stomach. "This is my family. I love them all so so much."
As the night went on, I realized at one point I wanted this feeling . . . this meal . . . to last forever.
It never does. Sooner or later – it's time to leave.
The building is sold, the restaurant is sold, but the sweet memories of that hot summer night, and a thousand delicious nights like it over the years, will belong to me and my family forever.
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