City Takes Bids for Tavern on the Green
New York Times 2/3/2009
By Glenn Collins
Could Tavern on the Green, the landmark restaurant in Central Park, flourish under another name?
The question arose Monday when the Department of Parks and Recreation put out a formal 38-page request for bidders to take over the restaurant’s 25-year operating license, which expires Dec. 31. Proposals must be submitted by May 1.
The request for proposal states that the city does not have the authority to pass along the name Tavern on the Green, which has been owned by the LeRoy family since the restaurateur Warner LeRoy, who died in 2001, took over the license to run the restaurant in 1973. The LeRoys own a Tavern on the Green restaurant in Florida and plan to open another in San Francisco.
The restaurant’s chief operating officer, Michael Desiderio, would not say on Monday if the restaurant was willing to relinquish its name to a new operator. He said in a statement that the LeRoys hoped to keep the license and “continue serving the hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers” for “generations to come.”
In a statement, Adrian Benepe, the parks commissioner, characterized the availability of Tavern, as it is known, as “a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for an entrepreneur to play an active role in shaping the face of New York City.”
The restaurant draws more than half a million patrons a year and calls itself “the highest-grossing independently owned restaurant in the United States.” According to the city’s proposal, the restaurant, just west of the Sheep Meadow near 67th Street, reported $36.2 million in revenues last year, and paid $1.3 million to the city under the current license, which requires Tavern to pay 3.5 percent of its gross receipts. Under more recent licenses with the city, restaurant companies have been paying more than 10 percent to operate parks department properties.
Of interest to potential bidders is that “the incoming concessionaire shall retain existing employees by seniority within each job classification,” the proposal says. The restaurant employs more than 390 nonmanagement restaurant workers represented by Local 6 of Unite Here, formerly known as the Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees International Union.
The union has expressed its concerns to the parks department “about the future of the employees at Tavern,” said a union spokesman, John Turchiano.