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N.Y.’s famed Tavern On The Green to open S.F.’s biggest restaurant

N.Y.’s famed Tavern On The Green to open S.F.’s biggest restaurant

San Francisco Business Times 5/6/2008

By J.K. Dineen

Storied New York restaurant Tavern On The Green will take over the top floor of San Francisco’s Metreon, a deal that will immediately make it the city’s largest restaurant and help reinvigorate the flagging Yerba Buena entertainment and retail complex.

The world-famous Tavern On The Green, which has never expanded beyond its home overlooking Central Park, has leased 30,000 square feet plus a 13,000-square-foot terrace overlooking Yerba Buena Park. That’s bigger than its New York flagship, which is the second-highest grossing independent restaurant in the United States, with 750,000 annual visitors and annual revenue just under $40 million.

“We have been anxiously waiting for the perfect opportunity to expand the Tavern On The Green brand, and we are pleased to say that we have finally found it in San Francisco,” said Jennifer LeRoy, CEO of Tavern On The Green. “The City of San Francisco, with its vibrancy, diversity and passionate dining culture, combined with the perfect setting on a park in the heart of the city, is simply too good to be true.”

The deal for the large space overlooking Yerba Buena Park comes at a time when the property’s owners, the Westfield Group and Forest City Commercial Group, are in talks with Redevelopment Agency officials about repositioning the four-story, 350,000-square-foot Metreon. The complex — envisioned as a high-tech urban mix of dining, gaming, music, exhibitions, shopping, and movies when Sony opened it in 1999 — has never lived up to its promise. While the movie theater there is one of the highest grossing theaters in the country, other retail and entertainment ventures have struggled or failed, with a Microsoft store, a Discovery Channel Store, and the high-end restaurant Montage all going belly up.

Westfield and Forest City bought the property in February 2006. Natalie Berg, senior vice president for Forest City Development, called Tavern On The Green “an extraordinary addition to the area’s distinctive landscape.”

“Tavern On The Green is a name with character, charisma and celebrity that will serve as yet another catalyst in the growth of one of San Francisco’s most dynamic neighborhoods,” she said.

While the Metreon owners declined to discuss overall plans for the property, Tavern On The Green COO Michael Desiderio said Tavern officials were won over by plans to reposition the property. “When we first sat down with Westfield and Forest City, we were very impressed with their commitment to taking this property to the next level,” he said.

In an interview with the Business Times, LeRoy said Tavern On The Green has been exploring an expansion for years and looked at Las Vegas and Miami before settling on San Francisco. LeRoy, who took over the business when her father died seven years ago, said she has had countless offers to open other Taverns On The Green but “didn’t want to dilute the brand.” She said she would continue to look for expansion opportunities.

“We are very particular about what we put our name on,” said LeRoy. “We want it to be as special and magical as Tavern On The Green.”

The San Francisco Tavern On The Green is expected to open in summer 2009. It will share the floral decor and lavish crystal Tiffany chandeliers that characterize the original Tavern On The Green, but will “have some surprises,” LeRoy said.

A heavy emphasis will be placed on local, fresh California ingredients and wines. “San Francisco is famous for its food and fresh ingredients — we have every intention of embracing the local spirit,” Desiderio said. An executive chef has not been named.

About 75 percent of the space will be dedicated to private events, and the Tavern owners hope to capture brisk business from the nearby Moscone Convention Center. The restaurant will be bigger than the New York Tavern On The Green, which is 26,000 square feet.

“We want to take full advantage of the San Francisco diner, as well as the 8 million people that go through the convention center each year,” Desiderio said.

For the LeRoy family, the deal in San Francisco is something of a homecoming. Jennifer LeRoy’s grandfather, film producer and director Mervyn LeRoy, was born and raised in San Francisco before going south to Hollywood, where he was the head of production for MGM and credited with making the Wizard of Oz and launching the careers of Clark Gable, Robert Mitchum and Lana Turner. Her father, Warner LeRoy, took over Tavern On The Green in 1974 and also operated the flamboyant swinging singles hang-out Maxwell’s Plum, which had a bars in New York and at Ghirardelli Square. One artifact that adorned the Ghirardelli Square Maxwell Plum’s, a particularly exquisite Tiffany stained glass window, will likely end up in the new Tavern On The Green, LeRoy said.

“A lot of people have been trying to buy that from us,” she said. “We’ve been hanging on to it for a long time to put it somewhere special.”