by adrienne gaffney | July 8, 2013 | People
John Meadow at No. 8, the re-envisioned Bungalow 8.
Meadow with Alain Allegretti, Curt Huegel, and Marc Forgione, at the opening of several of his properties at Revel in April.
“Small businesses cut through a lot of bureaucracy,” says John Meadow.
Meadow recently partnered with Amy Sacco for nightspot, No. 8.
“I’m a hopeless romantic.” John Meadow professes this so many times and with such conviction you don’t dare doubt him, even though owners of fast-growing restaurant empires aren’t typically known for their poetic sensibilities. If Meadow is a romantic, he’s clearly one with some very sharp business smarts. In late summer, Meadow’s company, LDV Hospitality (the initials stand for the famous Fellini film La Dolce Vita), which posted $80 million in revenues last year, will take one of its boldest steps yet—opening American Cut, a new concept steakhouse in downtown Manhattan. The move is significant for several reasons: Meadow sees an undeveloped niche for steakhouses in a city where there have been few challengers to such stalwarts as Peter Luger and The Palm.
As importantly, he’s moved to put the LDV imprimatur on dining and restaurant experiences 24/7. The morning slot is covered by Corso Coffee, LDV’s new take on the classic Italian espresso bar. Within the last year Meadow also entered the late-night realm, partnering with No. 8, a relaunch of Amy Sacco’s iconic Bungalow 8.
This recent flurry of activity coincides with Meadow seeking higher visibility for LDV. Until now, he’s taken pains to have the restaurants in his portfolio—among them Scarpetta, Lucy’s Cantina Royale, and Lugo Caffe—be defined as individual entities with distinct personalities. “I never wanted us to be perceived as a marketing machine,” he explains. But with the halo from his properties’ collective success, Meadow feels the time is finally right for “people to view the brand name as a symbol of credibility.”
And of a certain, shall we say, “romantic” nostalgia. Although Meadow grew up in Farmington, Connecticut, he attributes his Euro sensibilities to an Italian-born grandfather, Giorgio Cavaglieri, an architect in Manhattan who pioneered historical preservation. Cavaglieri’s work focused on adaptive reuse: taking classic and historical building elements and updating them for today. Meadow tries to do the same with the design in his restaurants. “There’s no Lucite; there’s no LED lighting; there’s no techno,” he says.
Meadow also credits time spent in Italy for fueling a fondness for the retro glamour of Fellini-era Europe and further refining his aesthetic eye. While a student at Cornell School of Hotel Administration, he interned at Rome’s famous Hassler hotel, where legendary hotelier Roberto Wirth once berated him for wearing an American-style button-down collar. Lesson learned. The devil—or rather the sophisticated customer’s perceptions—is always in the details.
After college, Meadow spent two years in The Plaza hotel’s food and beverage management training program. The legacy of the Oak Room and memories of Truman Capote’s heyday spurred Meadow’s passion for the business; the all-encompassing corporate structure did not. “I realized that small business is an opportunity to cut through a lot of bureaucracy,” he says.
He went on his own in 2004, with initial projects funded by a syndicate of investors. That same year he partnered with Curt Huegel, a seasoned restaurateur to open a bar called Local West, overlooking Penn Station. It was an instant moneymaker. Two years later he introduced Gin Lane, a restaurant in the Meatpacking District with a classic, clubby Mad Men vibe, made popular by hot spots like the Waverly Inn. But despite major buzz and positive reviews, the restaurant was quickly shuttered. “I didn’t do that project with Curt, it was the wrong partners, we were undercapitalized, and we didn’t have the discipline to run a bona fide business,” he says. “It’s not just about making money. But if you’re not making money, it’s not real.”
Meadow met chef Scott Conant and in 2008 they turned Gin Lane’s former location into Scarpetta. It won rave reviews, was included in Esquire’s Best New Restaurants of 2008, and quickly became a New York culinary mainstay. A year late LDV was founded (since 2011 all projects have been funded internally) and new properties have followed in a blur: four restaurants in the Revel in Atlantic City; the three-starred Veritas in New York; and Scarpettas in Miami, Las Vegas, Toronto, and Beverly Hills.
LDV has grown so fast it now includes 1,000 employees in five states. At this year’s Cannes Film Festival, No. 8 had a pop-up, and plans for the next year include expansion into Houston, Atlanta, and potentially the UAE. To Meadow, this level of success comes from the years of steady, head down, hard work that provided a foundation for him and Huegel to take risks moving forward. “We can do a restaurant tomorrow; it can close. We’re still going to open another 10 in the next two years,” he says.
Meadow, who travels extensively during the week, says weekends with his wife Karin and their daughter, Grace, at their Upper West Side apartment are sacrosanct—no business allowed. He says, “It’s nice then to sit back, reflect, and enjoy what you have.”
photography by gregg delman