Jim Poris - May 2002
Food Arts presents the May 2002 Silver Spoon Award for sterling performance to Tony Goldman, the urban developer/preservationist who has harnessed the hip factor of restaurants and hotels to help resuscitate the architectural splendor and human vibrancy of a number of down-at-the-heels city neighborhoods. Starting with Manhattan's Upper West Side in 1968, Goldman has been instrumental in inoculating SoHo in New York City, South Beach in Miami, and now Center City in Philadelphia with cachet and chic urban cool, prime meat for scenemakers. And in almost each case, reluctant restaurant buzz soon led to buzz saw renovation and an influx of fashionable residents and glossy retailers.
"Real estate is a heady business; it's intellectual. The restaurant and hotel business is emotional, soulful, artistic. I need the combination to be satisfied," Goldman says about his intertwined two-track career. "As an entrepreneur, I've found a niche of finding the synergy between hospitality and the revitalization of neighborhoods."
After "recycling" 15 properties in the 1960s that helped stanch the decline of New York City's Upper West Side, Goldman turned his enterprising attention to the cast-iron warehouses and dilapidated factories in SoHo. In 1978, joining such urban pioneers as Dean & Deluca, Soho Charcuterie, and Raoul's, Goldman established Greene Street Café, an updated version of the jazz supper club (where he sometimes sang), as the galvanizing spirit of the blossoming neighborhood. He followed up in 1984, with Soho Kitchen and Bar, an ambitious wine bar with tasting flights.
With this prophetic eureka—"I've discovered the American Riviera"—issued after a serendipitous appraisal of the decaying urban beachfront at the southern tip of Miami Beach, Goldman ignited a boom that transformed South Beach into a high-gloss address (in recognition of his advocacy, he now chairs the Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau). As he began refurbishing 18 properties in South Beach, Goldman signaled the area's emergence with the Park Central Hotel (1986) and Lucky's Restaurant (1988), and then capped it in 1998 with The Hotel (with designer Todd Oldham) and its restaurant Wish. Now he's counting on a similar effect in Philadelphia, where the recently opened Mediterranean Trust (with executive chef Guillermo Pernot) at 13th Street and Sansom sits at the gravitational center of his neighborhood redevelopment. And he's still a presence in New York City, where, in 1966, he installed Wall Street Kitchen & Bar in his restoration of the American Bank Note building, and this year signaled the post 9/11 reemergence of the downtown area with Stone Street Tavern in another restored historical property.
As a former army cook, Goldman knows kitchen life. And he loves it. "What's great about this business are the people in it and the customers. Being with them is like being part of an incredible extended family. And I know that no one works harder to make people happy than those in the restaurant business."