The True Story of Guido
He showed up during the utter chaos of scurrying to open in our new underground space in the fall of 2008. The place was upside down…painters everywhere, carpenters, artists, cooks, cable guys, POS people, Health Inspectors, prep cooks, food deliveries, liquor reps, job applicants, curiosity seekers just taking a peek, sign makers, electricians…plus friends popping in to say hi and good luck when in truth things were so frantic we couldn’t even look up to say thanks.
But if you’re in the industry, you already know this drill and are rolling your eyes thinking, “been there, done that.”
Our point is that in the midst of running around with our hair on fire, there was this kinda quiet guy with heavily tattooed arms, an easy smile, a sincere demeanor (i.e., not blowing smoke up your ass) and a calmness in the eye of our storm. He was a bartender, just getting things done, shining the glassware, stocking the beer coolers, offering to help wherever necessary, keeping busy the entire time and crossing things off our massive To Do list.
His name was Tony, but we have to be honest and admit we had no idea who he was.
Our new General Manager had hired him (since we always let our managers hire their own crew). You have to understand, there was so much commotion, for all we knew, maybe Tony just came down the stairs off the street and started pitching in.
The opening actually went really well, with Mayor Rybeck and other luminaries cutting a ribbon on opening day without even a hint of the exhaustion and frenzy we’d just lived through. Business was crazy good, so fairly quickly we realized that with two separate bars and all the booze being poured, we better get someone to manage the bar, so “that nice Tony guy” got promoted to Bar Manager.
Fast forward to several months down the road, we hit a MAJOR bump in the road.
But let’s back up a bit. When word first got out that we were going to take over the old Rossi’s space on 9th Street, people started telling us, “You’re in the big leagues now.” You see, 9th Street is kind of downtown’s “Restaurant Row” with legendary hotspots such as Manny’s (for the expense account steakhouse crowd), Zelo (the white tablecloth institution), Chambers Kitchen (from the D’Amico gods), The Melting Pot (of fondue fame), Keys Cafe (our neighboring breakfast joint), Solera (tapas de Espana) and more. It was time for quirky little Hell’s Kitchen to grow up.
So we hired our first ever General Manager to ensure we behaved professionally instead of like the bad boys we are.
Turns out “running things like a ship” just wasn’t in our makeup; our staff revolted to all the new Rules & Regulations in place, all the “write ups” for misdeeds, and all the army orders from the new manager in the shiny shoes and spiffy suit. To say it wasn’t a good fit was the understatement of the year, so we changed things up and found ourselves back at square one without a GM.
Then, one by one, servers and bartenders and cooks and hosts kept pulling the owners aside and whispering, “You should really take a good look at Tony.” Again and again, trusted employees urged us to give him a shot at running the place because he had a steady hand, a great demeanor, was smart as a whip without acting like it, and had already RUN other restaurants. Whaaaa? Tony has GM experience? Yup, turns out he used to run some really big places but burnt out with the hundred-hour weeks and decided to step back and go back to bartender. Once we explained our policy of NOT allowing managers to burn out with ungodly hours, Tony signed on.
Long story short, Tony pulled together a dream team of managers and they now run Hell’s Kitchen not only like a well-oiled machine, but also with a heart. Keeping things running smoothly with 120 employees isn’t always easy (some days it’s like cat-wrangling) but by and far, we have a happy crew who respects Tony because he respects them. Everyone sometimes bumps heads (disagreements between Tony and Cyn are known as “The Guido vs the Puerto Rican”) but it’s a dream come true partnership that works so incredibly well that on January 1, owners Mitch, Steve and Cyn invited Tony into the owner’s fold to become a real partner.
So welcome to Hell, Tony Perella. We’re all beyond thrilled that you’re now a bona fide owner. You stepped up to the plate in more ways than we can possibly count. You’ve certainly got the chops, but more importantly, we love you and respect you because you let your people shine. Plus, those badass tattoos certainly sealed the deal.
Mitch Omer, Steve Meyer and Cynthia Gerdes