The Business of Brotherly Love
Steve Abrams is the owner of Magnolia Bakery in New York City. Previousl to that, he had owned various bars and restaurants in Manhattan. His brother Danny is a restaurant owner in Manhattan as well.
Question: You and your brother are both in the New York City food business. How does that work?
Steven Abrams: Oh there’s certainly synergy there. We speak almost daily. We’re brothers that actually get along and like each other and spend a lot of time together, time permitting. We started the bar Wildlife together, but he ran it. I was in the real estate business at the time, I didn't want to run it. He ran it. We then went on to the club and again I was investor. I'm an active investor, but I didn't want to run the day-to-day. We subsequently parted ways. He opened a restaurant called Citrus with a gentlemen named Louis Lanza, who has Josie's and a few other places. I got out of the real estate business and I was starting to do restaurant consulting and I opened a restaurant called Flowers, on 17th Street, which was a celebrity Mecca at the time. He went on and I, at Flowers, had a chef -- I actually fired a chef who tried to hold me up one night, which chef's do and I hired another chef named Jimmy Bradley and he was very, very up and coming young kid. When I opened up this fast food place called It's A Wrap, Jimmy became my partner who was sort of overseeing the food component even though he was doing other things.
I was getting out of that business; I got a problem with my two main partners in that business, I decided to leave and they went ahead and opened a very renowned New York Times two star restaurant called The Red Cat, which I invested in. I was still involved with them, but on a much less involved way. They went on to open up another place called Harrison, equally as successful, then they opened up a place called Pace which didn't do as well, and they opened the Mermaid Inn.
My brother and I had an opportunity to be bought out of the other restaurants and he was able to take over the Mermaid Inn [one] hundred percent. Other than giving him some construction advice and being an ear, I'm not involved in his businesses and he's not involved in mine. But he was, originally, going to be my partner in Magnolia. When we were talking to a leaser in the first few meetings, he was there as my partner. It was a wonderful deal for him; I was going to put up most of the money, he was going to have a nice sizable chunk to run it and he kept vacillating on whether to do it or not. Right now he calls it in the history of the world the worst business decision ever made because he chose not to do it, but I think in reality he did the right thing. His dilemma was I love running the floor, conceptualizing new places, being on the floor, working the people, working the room, etcetera. That's where his true love of the restaurant business is and if he had been working with me at Magnolia he would have been doing schedules for $9 an hour workers that were selling cup cakes and it didn't resonate with him and he kept vacillating and saying, "I'm in. I'm out. I'm in. I'm out." And finally he said he was out.
From a purely financial point of view, bad decision, but from a human being living a life and having to go somewhere every day for ten hours and live, it was absolutely the right decision for him because you should do what you love and then you'll be successful.
Recorded on October 23, 2009
Steve and Danny Abrams have owned restaurants and bars in New York City for the past several years. What’s it like being in the same industry as a family member?