Integrity is a word restaurants are starting to use to define their attitude toward food, service, and hospitality.
We heard it first from Kim Lapine, Vice President of Marketing for the Smith & Wollensky Restaurant Group. She told us, “What I truly was attracted to about the concept and the brand was that the quality of both the food and the people and, additionally, the service, was built on integrity.”
The restaurant was founded in 1977 around the idea of a traditional steak house, with what Lapine calls out as “High quality food, impeccable service, very welcoming atmosphere, comfortable, yet very special and refined. We have people that not only have the technical skills and the know how to do their job, but that have that warm inviting personality.” She adds, “The experience is truly unique and it’s one of the things that drew me to this company right from the beginning.”
Lapine is not the only one with that sort of bond to the company—along with celebrating the opening of their newest location at the Boston Atlantic Wharf, the restaurant group also celebrated 25 years with two of its principals: Michael Feighery, the Restaurant Group President, and Tom Elbashary, the Executive Chef and Master Butcher at the Houston, Texas location.
Feighery says it takes a team to put it all together—and he’s notably appreciative of the many years of loyalty and service many of his team have given to the Smith & Wollensky Restaurant Group. This 30-year restaurant industry veteran has been there to see them through the current expansion phase and is helping to grow the restaurant’s reputation as a premier steak house appealing to a broader and more diverse audience.
He emphasizes that it’s not something he does without partners. “I’ve been fortunate enough to surround myself with great people throughout my career, and now a corporate team that is strong and locally based,” says Feighery. “My people have helped me become what I am today.”
He also credits his roots, looking back to when he came to the United States from his native Ireland. “They gave me a job and an opportunity,” he recalls. “When you come off as a young immigrant, you look for something that people have been talking about. The local contacts I had in New York said that if you are going to stay in the hospitality business, Smith & Wollensky in Manhattan is the premier setting to really try and get your foot in the door.”
It’s the same reasoning Chef and Master Butcher Elbashary gives for his 25 years with the company—because he appreciates the quality difference. “I started back in 1986 at Smith & Wollensky in New York,” he relates, “and I learned from the best butcher that you can ever find. I just got good at it; the more you practice, the better you get. I got hooked, and here I am 25 years later.”
Elbashary also emphasizes that the restaurant selects the top two percent of Prime USDA beef in the country, with a butcher in each restaurant hand selecting the cuts. He adds, “That’s what makes Smith & Wollensky so special.”
Experience is also what led to the selection of David Doyle as General Manager of the Boston Atlantic Wharf location. Doyle has 14 years of history with Smith & Wollensky and relocated from the Washington, D.C. location to open the new site, and says he considers it “huge” to become part of Boston history. “Our product sells itself,” he adds, “but it’s the personality in here. We spend a lot of time training our staff so they get the Smith & Wollensky atmosphere. Every person has a great personality from the valet to the front desk to the bartender to the table service–you are going to get that same great character.”
Feighery says that the experience at any of the nine iconic Smith & Wollensky restaurants gives people what they expect in an American steak house. He says, “Our food is very pure, very high quality, with a very comprehensive wine list.” He adds, though, that it comes “with wonderful hospitality.” He says of the experience: “It’s really built around the people in the restaurants. We spend a lot of time hand picking to make sure they understand they are in the service business.”
The restaurant group has its corporate headquarters in Boston, and now two locations in that city—the new one at the Atlantic Wharf near the financial district, and the historic Castle at Back Bay.
Some coverage of the Smith & Wollensky opening has been sponsored by Absolut Vodka.