The Business of Brotherly Love
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?
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Best case: redrawing borders leads to peace, prosperity and EU membership. But there's also a worst case
- The Yugoslav Wars started in 1991, but never really ended
- Kosovo and Serbia are still enemies, and they're getting worse
- A proposed land swap could create peace - or reignite the conflict
The death of Old Yugoslavia
Image: public domain
United Yugoslavia on a CIA map from 1990.
Wars are harder to finish than to start. Take for instance the Yugoslav Wars, which raged through most of the 1990s.
The first shot was fired at 2.30 pm on June 27th, 1991, when an officer in the Yugoslav People's Army took aim at Slovenian separatists. When the YPA retreated on July 7th, Slovenia was the first of Yugoslavia's republics to have won its independence.
After the wars
Image: Ijanderson977, CC BY-SA 3.0 / Wikimedia Commons
Map of former Yugoslavia in 2008, when Kosovo declared its independence. The geopolitical situation remains the same today.
The Ten-Day War cost less than 100 casualties. The other wars – in Croatia, Bosnia and Kosovo (1) – lasted much longer and were a lot bloodier. By early 1999, when NATO had forced Serbia to concede defeat in Kosovo, close to 140,000 people had been killed and four million civilians displaced.
So when was the last shot fired? Perhaps it never was: it's debatable whether the Yugoslav Wars are actually over. That's because Kosovo is a special case. Although inhabited by an overwhelming ethnic-Albanian majority, Kosovo is of extreme historical and symbolic significance for Serbians. More importantly, from a legalistic point of view: Kosovo was never a separate republic within Yugoslavia but rather a (nominally) autonomous province within Serbia.
Kosovo divides the world
Image: public domain
In red: states that have recognised the independence of Kosovo (most EU member states – with the notable exceptions of Spain, Greece, Romania and Slovakia; and the U.S., Japan, Turkey and Egypt, among many others). In blue: states that continue to recognise Serbia's sovereignty over Kosovo (most notably Russia and China, but also other major countries such as India, Brazil, Mexico, South Africa and Iran).
The government of Serbia has made its peace and established diplomatic relations with all other former Yugoslav countries, but not with Kosovo. In Serbian eyes, Kosovo's declaration of independence in 2008 was a unilateral and therefore legally invalid change of state borders. Belgrade officially still considers Kosovo a 'renegade province', and it has a lot of international support for that position (2). Not just from its historical protector Russia, but also from other states that face separatist movements (e.g. Spain and India).
Despite their current conflict, Kosovo and Serbia have the same long-term objective: membership of the European Union. Ironically, that wish could lead to Yugoslav reunification some years down the road – within the EU. Slovenia and Croatia have already joined, and all other ex-Yugoslav states would like to follow their example. Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia have already submitted an official application. The EU considers Bosnia and Kosovo 'potential candidates'.
Kosovo is the main stumbling block on Serbia's road to EU membership. Even after the end of hostilities, skirmishes continued between the ethnically Albanian majority and the ethnically Serbian minority within Kosovo, and vice versa in Serbian territories directly adjacent. Tensions are dormant at best. A renewed outbreak of armed conflict is not unthinkable.
Land for peace?
Mitrovica isn't the only area majority-Serb area in Kosovo, but the others are enclaved and fear being abandoned in a land swap.
In fact, relations between Kosovo and Serbia have deteriorated spectacularly in the past few months. At the end of November, Kosovo was refused membership of Interpol, mainly on the insistence of Serbia. In retaliation, Kosovo imposed a 100% tariff on all imports from Serbia. After which Serbia's prime minister Ana Brnabic refused to exclude her country's "option" to intervene militarily in Kosovo. Upon which Kosovo's government decided to start setting up its own army – despite its prohibition to do so as one of the conditions of its continued NATO-protected independence.
The protracted death of Yugoslavia will be over only when this simmering conflict is finally resolved. The best way to do that, politicians on both sides have suggested, is for the borders reflect the ethnic makeup of the frontier between Kosovo and Serbia.
The biggest and most obvious pieces of the puzzle are the Serbian-majority district of Mitrovica in northern Kosovo, and the Albanian-majority Presevo Valley, in southwestern Serbia. That land swap was suggested previous summer by no less than Hashim Thaci and Aleksandar Vucic, presidents of Kosovo and Serbia respectively. Best-case scenario: that would eliminate the main obstacle to mutual recognition, joint EU membership and future prosperity.
If others can do it...
Image: Ruland Kolen
Belgium and the Netherlands recently adjusted out their common border to conform to the straightened Meuse River.
Sceptics - and more than a few locals - warn that there also is a worst-case scenario: the swap could rekindle animosities and restart the war. A deal along those lines would almost certainly exclude six Serbian-majority municipalities enclaved deep within Kosovo. While Serbian Mitrovica, which borders Serbia proper, is home to some 40,000 inhabitants, those enclaves represent a further 80,000 ethnic Serbs – who fear being totally abandoned in a land swap, and eventually forced out of their homes.
Western powers, which sponsored Kosovo's independence, are divided over the plan. U.S. officials back the idea, as do some within the EU. But the Germans are against – they are concerned about the plan's potential to fire up regional tensions rather than eliminate them.
Borders are the Holy Grail of modern nationhood. Countries consider their borders inviolate and unchanging. Nevertheless, land swaps are not unheard of. Quite recently, Belgium and the Netherlands exchanged territories so their joint border would again match up with the straightened course of the River Meuse (3). But those bits of land were tiny and uninhabited. And as the past has amply shown, borders pack a lot more baggage in the Balkans.
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