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Culintro and Hospitality Design (HD) magazine bring you the minds behind restaurant design. Each month, HD offers a Q&A with America's leading architects and designers on new and upcoming restaurant projects. Know restaurant design: what works, what lacks, and what's in store for the future.

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Howard Wein


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Howard Wein

   

 

Howard Wein knows F&B. A master’s in management in hospitality from the famed Cornell University School of Hotel Administration, has led to a successful career with Westin Hotels and Resorts as the corporate director of food and beverage, and with restaurateur Stephen Starr as COO, where he helped grow Starr Restaurants from eight to 16 restaurants with such notables as Buddakan and Morimoto in New York. Now, he’s joined Morgans Hotel Group as the senior vice president of food and beverage, helping to conceptualize new offerings (such as the outposts of the much-anticipated Mondrian Soho), and redo ones that may be past their prime (such as turning Cafeteria at the Hudson Hotel into Hudson Hall). Here in talks about his newest concepts, cooking for the Beastie Boys, and the importance of telling a complete story.

 
   

HD: Did you always know you wanted to go into hospitality?

HW: While in college, I started working as dishwasher, then a prep cook, and onward. I caught the hospitality bug early through working in the kitchen but realized after cooking at Bouley in 1996 that I was not talented enough as a cook to have a career strictly behind a stove. That’s when I decided to get an MBA in hospitality so I could expand my options but stay in the business.


Hudson Hall at the Hudson Hotel, New York

HD: Why F&B? What is it about that aspect of the industry that attracted you?

HW: I have always have been a foodie and a creative type. The ability to work with food, beverage, artists, and passionate, creative people is an everyday occurrence in F&B. This is not easy to come by in a career. I had the fortunate opportunity to cook for the Beastie Boys on their 1995 tour as well as for all the performers and VIPs backstage at Woodstock 1994. These were challenging yet really exceptional platforms to cook in at an early age.

HD: You have had a stellar career—Starwood, Starr Restaurants, now Morgans. What is your greatest lesson learned along the way?

HW: No matter what, success or failure always comes down to the quality of the product—the food and drink.

HD: What is the key to creating a successful restaurant?

HW: Getting there is about creating a strong brand. Telling a story that is well thought out across all disciplines—menus, marketing, pricing, music, design, uniforms, PR, operational systems, management personalities, reservation strategies. Staying successful is about putting the right people in the right roles operationally and ensuring that expectations are always exceeded.


Hudson Hall at the Hudson Hotel, New York

HD: You have been at some very design-driven brands. Where does design fit in?

HW: Design sets the stage and brings the brand together. Great design is emotional and can be the component that brings a project to another level and sets you apart from the competition. The world’s greatest brands are built on emotional connections—architecture and design are powerful tools to use when looking to leverage this.

HD: What’s the one thing people don’t realize about working in restaurant operations?

HW: No matter what, it just never ends.


The Woodward at the Ames in Boston

HD: What should designers keep in mind when designing a restaurant and why?

HW: Successful restaurant designs start with a creative vision for a specific concept and brand. You have to know what you are building before the design starts. Designing to a concept in a specific space works. Concepting after the fact to a designed space does not.

HD: What was one of your favorite projects working with Starr and why?

HW: It’s impossible to pick. Every project at Starr was unique, challenging and rewarding. While I was COO there, we grew from $45 million in revenue to over $100 million in three years. Stephen and team are family and always will be.

HD: You just opened Hudson Hall at the Hudson Hotel, a grown-up cafeteria. The design of the space is spot on, with the long tables, queen and king chairs, down to the rugby uniforms for the staff. How did this idea come about?

HW: The concept was derived from revisiting the original ethos of the hotel and the spirit of a New England campus. We then folded in the desire to offer a youthful energetic environment to complement our other entertainment venues and a menu concept that we could flex easily with the seasons. It’s a fun way to eat and the food is really well done. We don’t have a printed menu and this allows our chefs to max out their creativity.


The main dining room of Buddakan in New York

HD: You also opened up the Sky Terrace at the Hudson. Any details you would like to share?

HW: Sky Terrace is a one of the best-kept secrets in NYC. For this interview it will have to stay that way. We offer the best views in the city on the 15th floor, with beautiful people and great cocktails.

HD: What’s next for Morgans? Can you give us any hints to the Mondrian Soho’s F&B offerings?

HW: We are thrilled to be opening a new property in New York City. The entire ground floor will be all food and beverage. We have designed some unbelievable spaces thanks to Mari Balestrazzi of Morgans Design Group. Hints…A funky downtown cocktail lounge plus a really energized fun-loving restaurant, all serving Sam Talbot’s superb seafood. Sam is a great team member and a super addition to Morgans.

HD: What do you think is next for restaurants? What trends are you paying attention to?

HW: Vegan, raw, much more in the cocktail world, multiple chefs driving one location, and chefs doing bars.


Dining by the bay at the Mondrian in South Beach

HD: What would be your dream project?

HW: One that makes a lot of money and is never actually open.

HD: Restaurant you love for design that you haven’t been a part of?

HW: Jules Verne at the top of the Eiffel Tower in Paris. Does that count?


 

HD: City/area you are watching for development?

HW: I hope it is New Orleans.

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