Coffee with Ken Aretsky, a true New York restaurateur

Aretsky’s Patroon is Manhattan’s best kept secret.  I stumbled upon it last year when I visited New York for my birthday and was recommended for dinner by the concierge at The New York Palace. I have a weakness for steak whenever I am in New York and this was something new for me to try. I loved the experience and ambience and glad I kept in touch with the team as I was honoured to be given the chance to interview Ken Aretsky during my recent visit.  Ken’s experience spans some of New York’s biggest restaurants, hospitality experiences and launches which customers all over New York and internationally recognise. He is the true definition of a restaurateur.

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Where does your story start?

My first job was working at Lenny’s Steakhouse when I was 16. I officially started in the family business of supplying restaurants with gas and equipment. Hospitality runs in my blood and I always wanted to work in the restaurant industry. I was always intrigued by the characters that worked in the restaurant business. My first restaurant was Truman’s which opened in 1971 in Long Island inspired by Maxwell’s Plum. The restaurant became a big hit immediately and Newsday’s Barbara Rader gave it 4 chef hats.

Why do you think Truman’s became an immense success?

Amongst many other things, a major factor behind Truman’s success was me being there constantly. You must be present at your restaurant constantly to ensure things run smoothly and successfully. I have replicated that here at Patroon as well.

What other ventures were you involved in?

I ran a very successful restaurant and bar, Oren & Aretsky’s. It attracted a lot of celebrities and an exclusive clientele. In 1983 I took the lease for Arcadia and hired a female chef Anne Rosenzweig recommended by Mimi Sheridan of New York Times. At that time there were not many female chefs around and this was a game changer for the industry on the East coast.

From 1985 – 1995 I was called by Marshall Cogan to run the legendary 21 Club as President and General Manager. I learnt so much from their ex-owner Peter on how to run the place more than I have learnt from anyone else. We had a very good run and in 1995 I moved to take over Christ Cella ( a well known steakhouse) – the building happened to be for sale and I bought it! It is very rare in this industry to own the property you run a restaurant out of.

What is most important when it comes to running a successful restaurant?

You need to have a strong front of house team. They are the first port of call when you walk in to a restaurant and your impression of the places starts from there. My Maitre d’ has been with me for nearly 22 years. I am always here and greet all the guests – customer recognition is very important. A lot of our guests are regulars and hospitality is at the heart of our business. Getting the food right is common sense but getting service and the experience right is the utmost important factor in running a successful restaurant.

In my experience Aretsky’s Patroon reminds me of an exclusive members club. The townhouse exterior and welcoming atmosphere makes it feel like home away from home. I am a real nerd when it comes to learning about hospitality ventures and meeting Ken really inspired me but also reaffirmed what the real roots of hospitality are and should be. The restaurant has a soul and warm service. They also have a rooftop and private dining rooms in the restaurant. It was the perfect way to spend my afternoon in New York this summer.

 

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