Mark Strausman, the chef behind celebrity hot spot Freds, says he became worried about the future of luxury retailer Barneys — where Freds is housed — long before the company filed for bankruptcy in August.
In an exclusive interview with Side Dish, Strausman said the problems began with the change of management that came in under hedge fund manager Richard Perry, whose Perry Capital assumed control of the high-end department store in 2012.
“When fashion people like Richard Perry think they can run a restaurant, I knew it was time to start looking,” said Strausman, whose eatery is known for drawing celebrities like Bruce Springsteen, Jerry Seinfeld and Larry David, as well as titans of industry like Corcoran CEO Pam Liebman and billionaire Jon Tisch.
“I was running the show, but they were doing things like changing the coffee brand for no reason,” Strausman said of the new management. “They even took the chicken livers off the menu — that is the type of thing that made Freds, Freds,” he lamented. “Too many chefs spoil the broth. ”
Strausman eventually got the chicken livers back on the menu (they cost $ 19 and come with shallots and port wine sauce on crostini). But Barneys’ problems only worsened when the rent on the flagship Madison Avenue store doubled to $ 30 million a year, not including taxes.
By August, the chain had filed for bankruptcy after failing to find a buyer — prompting Strausman to take the plunge and sign a lease on a new restaurant, which he’s planning to launch in March.
“I was watching what was going on and it was clear that I needed to look out for my family and find another gig, another deal,” said Strausman.
The new 3,600-square-foot restaurant will be located at 41 Madison Ave. — off Madison Square Park — and named Mark’s Off Madison, he told Side Dish. The eatery will have 100 seats inside and an 85-seat outdoor cafe and will include a bakery, where Strausman will sell his famed bagels.
“The new restaurant will have the greatest hits from my 30-year career, of everything I’ve done, and kind of pick up from there,” said Strausman, who made his name first at restaurateur Pino Luongo’s Coco Pazzo and then at his own restaurant, Campagna.
“I’m really excited to start a new restaurant. I felt that I was being marginalized, and that’s why I did this,” he said.
Of course, Strausman still hopes to keep running Freds, which he continues to pack with customers on the ninth floor of the Madison Avenue department store, which was founded in 1923.
“Freds is very successful, but unfortunately we can’t pay all the rent and the store had a lot of problems. It’s like when one part of your body is fine even though the other part isn’t well,” Strausman said.
“It’s my child,” he says of the restaurant he opened in 1996 at the behest of Gene Pressman, the grandson of Barneys’ founder. The store was named for Pressman’s dad, Fred Pressman, the son of the founder, Barney Pressman.
When Barneys goes to bankruptcy auction on October 22, it’s expected to be bought for $ 271 million by branding company Authentic Brands Group. But even if Authentic Brands succeeds at auction, it will only keep the store that houses Freds open if it can renegotiate the massive rent, which is $ 44 million including taxes.
In the meantime, customers are calling Strausman panicked over Freds’ future, he said. “They are calling me right now, asking what they are going to do,” Strausman said.
Barneys declined to comment. Perry Capital, which shuttered in 2016 but still owns its Barneys stake, also did not return a request for comment.
Nightlife guru Omar Hernandez is going back to his roots — opening a new hotspot downtown.
Omar is slated to open a bi-level spot downtown at 302 Broome St. on Halloween night. Upstairs will have cocktails and a small plate tasting menu while the downstairs lounge, called La Boite, will be music oriented.
This is the same location of the now-shuttered Happy Ending bar, which came to a tumultuous non-happy post-#MeToo end in 2017.
Hernandez currently runs Omar’s at Vaucluse on the Upper East Side, attracting celebs from Spike Lee to Robert De Niro, Cuba Gooding Jr. and Donald Trump Jr. In June, neighbors complained about the noise and the hours, but the conflict has since been resolved, Hernandez said.
The new 4,000-square-foot spot will feature small bites, like caviar and truffle fries, with cocktails inspired by Kilian perfumes, like “Black Phantom” and “Good Girl Gone Bad.” Hernandez also plans to launch cabaret-style shows, so the lounge will feel like “one big cocktail party.”
The neighborhood, which is the crossroads of Chinatown, Little Italy and NoLita, features young chef Flynn McGarry’s Gem, and an outpost of EAT, from the Upper East Side, along with new clothing stores, like Scotch & Soda.
“It’s one of the last downtown corridors that is still a little gritty, so people can still get a slice of a bygone era of New York,” Hernandez said.
Hernandez’s partner, John Mingione, says the new bar is the start of a national brand that will also feature private membership.
“Our target is to expand to places like Las Vegas. Real estate needs hospitality content. They feed off each other,” Hernandez said.
… that around 600 people attended Gurney’s Star Island’s first annual oyster festival. Executive chef Jeremy Blutstein showcased local oysters from West Robins and Violet Cove, along with steamed lobster, and corn from Balsam Farms.