Ron Gorodesky is a Main Line restaurateur’s best friend.
Ron Gorodesky, Jon Shechtman and Marty Grims are huddling at Du Jour in Haverford, sitting in orange leather chairs around a table perched on a rug full of colorful geometric designs. The rug either matches or clashes, depending on taste. And as it turns out, taste is more or less why the trio is meeting.
For Paoli’s Gorodesky, it’s his first day back from a week in Lake Tahoe, Calif. His sparse, reddish-brown vacation beard proves it. Otherwise, he’s wearing a dark pinstripe suit, a dark shirt and no tie. He slips a pair of reading glasses on, then off.
As CEO of Restaurant Advisory Services in Blue Bell, Gorodesky takes two weeks of vacation a year. “It’s all I can afford,” he says, though he’s not speaking in financial terms. “I love my work. Everybody wants my job. Most people in the restaurant industry work crazy hours—holidays. I get to do all the fun stuff.”
Today he’s moving forward with Grims, a respected regional restaurateur, on a potential lease agreement for the first of what Gorodesky says will be 10 new Du Jour locations in the next three years. Grims says they’ll open “as many as make sense.” It’s his money—so ultimately, it’s his decision. But what Gorodesky says matters. “Some just call him God with a small ‘g,’” says Shechtman, a RAS subcontractor dressed more casually in a button-down shirt, jeans and Cordovan penny loafers.
Restaurants usually call Gorodesky for a lot of reasons. They call when they’re in dire straits, or when they need expert testimony in damage suits or a third party to divvy up a business after partners split or divorce. They call when launching a second or third location, redesigning or selling one, or when an owner’s tired of manning the ship 24 hours a day. The job isn’t easy. Restaurateurs can be idealistic, aggressive and accustomed to dominance.
Gorodesky’s drive doesn’t differ. He, too, hates to fail. His strengths: efficiency and figures, relative weaknesses for most restaurant owners. One mistake, and a place is out of business within a year.
Grims represents a typical client. A classic restaurateur, his father and grandfather were in the business, too. He graduated from the hotel and restaurant school at Cornell University. In 1983, the Four Seasons Hotel in Philadelphia was his first project. Now he’s a silent partner at Tango in Bryn Mawr and Basil Bistro and Bar in Paoli. He owns Moshulu, the dining boat on the Delaware River at Penn’s Landing; daddy O, a 22-room boutique hotel and restaurant in Brant Beach, N.J.; and Plantation, a restaurant in Harvey Cedars, N.J. He’s also behind The Inlet in Somers Point, N.J.
As president of Big Red Management, Grims employs close to 1,000 people. He’s responsible for overall business development, acquisitions, quality control and profit-loss margins—which is why he’s meeting with Gorodesky. “We’re looking at a lot of sites [for the second Du Jour],” says Gorodesky, who can’t reveal potential locations. “The Main Line is definitely a target.” (Grims has since signed a lease for a second Du Jour location at the Symphony House in Center City.)
They discuss hiring architects, designers and electrical and mechanical contractors. Gorodesky pushes for his own people, seeking to avoid “hiccups.” But Grims is on his cell phone. Gorodesky wants to involve less people; Grims wants more. It’s his money—some $700,000 is budgeted for the second location.
They review the sticking points of a proposed lease on one potential property. For starters, outdoor seating? The building’s owner doesn’t want it; Grims does. Access? The owner wants Du Jour open seven days a week. Grims’ thinking matches Gorodesky’s: “It’s our business; don’t tell us how to run it,” Gorodesky says. “If you’re only making $7,000 on a Sunday, it’s not worth it. We need flexibility there.”
They discuss various other financials—guaranteed rent and commission rates—and Gorodesky tells Grims he’ll spend $20,000-$30,000 on lawyers, architects and designers just to pave a path to a grand opening.
“Look around here,” says Gorodesky from the Haverford Du Jour. “We’re trying to build this. We have a grid. We’re alright. This deal’s going to happen.”
“I think so,” says Grims, who has used Gorodesky as a consultant for 20 years. “He approaches me with projects he knows I’ll have an interest in. Then, with his confidence and reputation, most deals get done in back rooms before they get advertised or marketed. I don’t take his opinions lying down, but I respect them. [With Du Jour,] we can’t afford to have a bad No. 2 or No. 3 [location].”
Today Gorodesky is in his 2004 silver GMC Yukon XL Denali driving down Route 30. He’s on the phone talking about a job in Newport, R.I., a $25 million mixed-use development. He’s a consultant, but whenever he talks about a project, it’s like it’s his. Everything he talks about—whether it’s a $5,300 double-fryer or “toning down” a chef—ends in the promise to “get it done, probably in the next day or two.”
So does he ever run out of days? “I have a hectic life,” Gorodesky admits. “It’s good stress, though.”
At 49, any bad stress comes from four teenagers at home—two are his and two belong to his second wife. He’s also built an “atypical” vacation house—not in South Florida or on the Jersey Shore but in State College, just in time for football season.
If you count washing dishes in a Northeast Philly deli, Gorodesky began working in restaurants when he was 12. He graduated from Penn State’s hotel and restaurant management school in 1979, then landed an $11,000/year job with Marriott, bouncing around in the chain. After he left, he ran Celebrations Catering with Jon Shechtman for two years. In 1984, he began working for the renowned accounting firm Laventhol & Horwath, running its city restaurant division, which conducted restaurant feasibility studies, operational audits and valuations.
By 1990, Gorodesky was back on his own—and he had an instant referral network. A year later, he formed a related real estate company, RAS Brokerage, but sold it in 1997 as part of his divorce settlement. Since then, he’s launched InnSite Hospitality Properties, a real estate brokerage firm, giving him two separate entities. Clients often need both. “It’s not unusual that I’ll sell a [restaurant] property, then the new buyer hires us to get things started,” he says.
Gorodesky has ongoing relations with 100-plus clients. He’s active with 15-20 at a time. “I have to make myself available,” he says. “I’m always on the go.”
His subcontractors help. They’re all one-time college fraternity brothers like Shechtman, whose forte is market analysis. Alan Segel, who once owned Tierra (now Savona) in Gulph Mills, is his connection to fine chefs.
Much of Gorodesky’s day is spent driving. He covers the East Coast, but his focus remains this area—where he started; where he knows the numbers, the people; where he has rich resources. Ninety percent of his proposals end in contracts. “Frankly, I’m a little surprised when they don’t,” he says. “Last year was my best year, but this year has been even better.”
The Main Line, Gorodesky says, is a deep market. Locals dine out often, and price isn’t much of a consideration. Restaurant owners have family money, and they can afford to succeed or fail. Restaurateurs, in general, can also afford his rates—$300 an hour, for now. He charged $275 until two years ago, and he expects a hike to $340 soon. Still, Gorodesky maintains he’s inexpensive.
“I bring significant value well in excess of what I charge for advice,” he says. “Plus, if someone doesn’t have money, what are they doing in the restaurant business?”
As the Main Line pushes west, restaurateurs—driven by available retail real estate—will continue to follow. A decade from now, Gorodesky predicts, Paoli will be at the Main Line’s center, and he credits Nectar in Berwyn with opening the western frontier to regional chain and independent restaurants.
“It’s why we see all the other development there,” Gorodesky says. “It’s a great market because of the availability. There will be slow and steady expansion, then a King of Prussia effect. Restaurants will have to do well or they’ll close because of high-end rent structures.”
When he’s out to eat, Gorodesky is both understanding and critical. He can understand if a restaurant runs out of product or there’s a wait for seating. But his No. 1 beef is server attitude. If he’s working, he studies the food, the flow. He counts the number of steps the kitchen and wait staff take to deliver a meal. He measures staff frustration on a busy weekend. Questions come later—or surveys.
It might take two to six months to turn a struggling restaurant around. Like a chiropractor, Gorodesky’s job is to make adjustments—sometimes with weekly appointments—and ultimately work himself out of a job. “Like a shrink,” he says. “We’re only successful when you learn to do without us.”