Stephen Starr, the man behind Buddakan and Serpico, among others, has 30 restaurants in seven cities, and he’s about to add one more. At the end of the month, he will bring an outlet of his Philly restaurant El Vez—named for the Mexican Elvis—to New York’s Battery Park City. Starr’s restaurants are well known not just for their food but for their larger-than-life design and atmosphere. Here, the restaurateur shares some of his best tips for opening and running a successful restaurant.
1. Let the Space Speak for Itself
When he’s ready for the next project, Starr doesn’t looks for real estate to match a preconceived restaurant. He finds a location and designs the concept, the menu, everything around it. It’s almost like restaurant feng shui.
2. Leave Design to the Creatives
“I don’t ask restaurant people what they think of a space. They’re good at what they do, but there is a brilliance in creative people you don’t find anywhere else.” That’s why he has an in-house architect.
3. Always Evolve
“[Restaurants] are like music. You can’t get stuck in an era or a decade that’s long gone.” Speaking of which, someone should totally do a one-hit wonder countdown show for restaurants. It would be epically long.
4. Inspire Awe
Starr’s restaurants run the gamut from English pub to upscale Asian to little French bistro. The one thing he says he needs to have in each of them is a piece that makes people go, “Wow, you see that?” At El Vez, it’s a blinged out lowrider, but it could just as easily be a futuristic-looking pod table that makes you feel like you’re on a spaceship (if you want to sit at one you can do it at Pod).
5. Beat Back Boredom
You would think that someone who has opened more than two dozen restaurants would just exude a sense of accomplishment once a place is ready for the public. But Starr says, “I’m very strange. When I open these restaurants I’m not excited, I’m bored.” So it seems like the secret to success is low-grade ADD.
6. Beware of Delis
“I’d never open a deli. I’d love to own a deli, but it’s impossible to make money.” Don’t look for Stephen Starr’s Pastrami any time soon.