Stephen Starr has booked famous comedians and musicians, but for the last 20 years his restaurants have been booked solid and he keeps opening high-performers.
Bored. Maybe even depressed. That’s the last thing you expect one of the most esteemed and successful restaurateurs in America to say on the day before opening a new concept.
But that is precisely how Stephen Starr described his feelings the day before opening the Continental in Miami last month. Starr talked with FSR about his $220 million restaurant empire and the celebrated career path that has taken him from comedy clubs to rock concerts to the highest echelon of the restaurant industry.
His Philadelphia-based Starr Restaurants group stands at 36 restaurants and includes some of the highest-performing independent operations in the country, like Buddakan in New York City, with 2014 sales topping $21 million, and a host of landmark properties in Philly, D.C., and New York City. Starr, who is opening another restaurant in Miami—a French brasserie expected to open this month or next—shared amazingly candid perspectives: what should change in restaurants, what should come back, and the business where he had the most fun (it wasn’t restaurants).
Your first restaurant, the Continental in Philadelphia, is celebrating its 20-year anniversary and still going strong with annual sales of more than $15 million. Will the Miami Continental mirror the first?
The spirit will be very much like the first one; the menu will be very similar, some of the classics. But there’s a more modernized approach to the food.
How do you feel now, as compared with the day before your first restaurant opened?
It’s really weird; the day I open the restaurant is sort of a sad day for me. Except for the first one, it’s always been anticlimactic. The adrenaline is pumping when you are conceptualizing and designing a restaurant, building it, and working on it with the chefs. But at this point, it’s almost like a depression sets in. It’s a very strange phenomenon psychologically, because I want to go to the next thing. And that happens with every project. I’m so enthused and excited, then right before it opens: Boom! I sort of get depressed; I’d rather just stay home, not go to the opening. But of course I go.
And when you go to the opening, does any of that adrenaline return? Or do you keep thinking: It’s time to do another one?
I kind of pretend that the adrenaline is here, but in the back of my mind I’m thinking it’s time to do another one—or I’m thinking about the next one.
So, what are you thinking about next?
Well, I can’t tell you because we haven’t announced it yet … but it will be another one in New York City. Oh, there is the French brasserie opening in Miami, but the one in New York will be a surprise and should open around March.