“WE BREATHLESSLY ANNOUNCE THAT THE TWO OF US HAVE TAKEN OVER THE FOUR SEASONS.” (A WHITE ELEPHANT REGAINS ITS STATURE BY CREATING TWO SUPERSTAR OWNERS).
The ’70s were shaping up as the disaster decade for New York’s great restaurants. Landmarks like Pavilion and Chauveron went out of business. And by 1974, the 15-year-old Four Seasons restaurant, created by the legendary restaurateur Joe Baum, was losing money and sliding toward extinction. It had been part of a chain, Restaurant Associates, and was becoming a casualty of creeping neglect. It was perceived, increasingly, as a “tourist” restaurant, forsaking its power-base Manhattan clientele, and was regarded by the restaurant industry as a white elephant and, lamentably, a lost cause. With all these odds stacked against them, Tom Margittai and Paul Kovi bravely bought The Four Seasons and asked us to reposition the original appeal of breakthrough American cuisine.
In the magnificent Philip Johnson-designed interior, set like a jewel on the first two floors of the greatest modern edifice in America (designed by the International Style master, Mies van der Rohe), the Seasons’ pioneering reputation had once promised to change the face and ethos of fine dining in the U.S. So we boldly positioned the new owners as “The-two-of-us” shaking hands in front of their “store,” and ran a full-page ad in The New York Times.
The ad charmed New York food lovers who valued great food, service, ambiance and dedication to a work ethic as they flocked back. Overnight the hungry Hungarian expatriates became the hot restaurateur entrepreneurs in the Big Apple. Within weeks, we created the concept of the Power Lunch, which repositioned their neglected Grill Room as the most prestigious meeting place in town. Every piece of the printed material, all lovingly designed by my staff and I, was signed “From the-two-of-us,”and each year-end we ran an “Annual Love Letter to New Yorkers” in The Times and New York magazine.
We designed their classic recipe book, and originated and named their milestone Spa Cuisine concept, whose name and recipes attracted millions of devotees, and imitators, all over the world. Its landmark interior status (the only restaurant so designated in New York) attests to its classic aesthetic and spiritual splendor. The Four Seasons has prospered to this day.
THE TORCH IS PASSED.
A decade after defining Tom Margittai and Paul Kovi as the two superstar owners of The Four Seasons, they groomed, drilled and encouraged two young, ambitious restaurateurs as heir apparents. My new ads anointed them as “The-four-of-us.” Then the day came when we announced the retirement of the dynamic duo of Tom and Paul with a clink of champagne glasses on the grand steps at the foot of Picasso’s welcoming ballet backdrop. In 1994, after double-handedly bringing the Seasons way beyond even its former eminence under the great Joe Baum, Tom and Paul passed the torch to their protégés
Alex von Bidder and Julian Niccolini (toasting farewell to their mentors) and the occasion was memorialized in this full-page Times ad. It’s a miracle that The Four Seasons still flourishes in today’s cost-driven world. When you contemplate the high mortality rate of fine restaurants over the past decades, The Four Seasons is the marketing miracle of the restaurant business. The Four Seasons, forever!