Gabriel Stulman On His West Village Restaurant Empire
It's a big week for restauranteur Gabriel Stulman, the genius behind West Village eateries Joseph Leonard, Jeffrey's Grocery and soon-to-open Fedora. Wednesday, Stulman re-opened the doors to Joseph Leonard after having to shut down for several months due to a fire, while simultaneously prepping to open the anticipated Fedora just a few blocks away. He somehow found time to chat with us.
HP: So you're on the brink of opening your third restaurant in a very short amount of time. What's the rush?
GS: We actually weren't looking for Fedora. Instead, Fedora found us. It was probably the worst time for us as a company. We were about a month into construction at Jeffrey's when we got a phone call asking if we were interested in looking at the Fedora space. Knowing the history and how storied of an establishment it is, we couldn't say no. We told ourselves before entering that if it was anything short of amazing and magical we would pass on it. Well, it is amazing and it is magical. We knew that if we passed, somebody else would surely snatch it up, so we wrote a letter to our investors explaining what we want to do with it and then left the decision up to them. Within 48 hours, we received an overwhelming flood of support, so we moved forward.
HP: Is there anything that threads Joseph Leonard, Jeffrey's and Fedora together besides your brilliance at the helm?
GS: I think there is one huge thread that ties them together, and it certainly isn't my brilliance because I don't have any. It's the talent that I am surrounded by -- they're an incredibly talented team full of passion and integrity. The other common thread is our approach and philosophy towards our guests and neighbors: We are genuinely grateful to even have the opportunity to be in business.
HP: How do you go about conceptualizing each eatery?
GS: I devour magazines, I travel, I watch film -- I try to always keep myself open to the possibility of being inspired. That, and what I personally feel like eating and drinking help drive it. So for Joseph Leonard, I love bistros and brasseries, so that naturally inspired it. At Jeffrey's Grocery, I wanted our version of a raw bar, and I think we nailed it on the head. At Fedora, I want a bar, something a little bigger, and I wanted to eat Mehdi's food. Check, check, check again.
HP: I'm assuming you planned for all three of them to be within a block or so of each other. Is that because you love the west village or just so you can go from place to place quickly?
GS: Actually it wasn't planned. Luck, luck and again luck. However, I do love that I can walk between them, and as far as Fedora goes, that was a huge factor in being attracted to that project while being in construction at another.
HP: What's the vision behind Fedora? How is it different from Joseph Leonard and Jeffrey's?
GS: To make another neighborhood restaurant and bar. However, maybe more than JL or Jeffrey's, it's to be more of a bar. My partner and GM Brian Bartels has been crafting and curating infused spirits, homemade bitters and syrups and putting together an inspired beverage program. As for food, it will differ in that it will bring new and unique food pairings to the city. Mehdi has a very creative approach that isn't bistro or brasserie food and it certainly won't be an oyster bar -- it'll be whatever we feel like cooking.
HP: Are there more restaurants on the horizon, or are you stopping at three?
GS: That is a tough question that has several different components to it. First off, nothing new for a while. I just want to enjoy what we have. Now as for down the road -- I hope that we are blessed with the opportunity to do something else, but that depends entirely on how we do with what is on our plate now.
HP: Which one is your favorite?
GS: You know the answer to that. I don't play favorites