Byline: Alison Oneacre
NEW YORK — Richie Akiva and Scott Sartiano aren’t exactly known as early risers. Fixtures on the city’s nightlife scene, the duo — the promoters responsible for the success and longevity of Spa — are more likely to be found entertaining Gisele and Leo at 3 a.m. on any given night of the week than fast asleep in their beds.
But with the opening on Saturday of Butter, their sleek new restaurant located at 415 Lafayette Street, owners Akiva, 25, and Sartiano, 27, are set to make the transition from club impresarios to restaurateurs. Anthony Martins, a nightclub veteran who originally opened Morgan’s Bar with Rande Gerber, is also an owner.
On Thursday morning, Akiva and Sartiano are firmly planted at a spacious moleskin banquette beneath the soaring 20-foot vaulted ceiling of the main dining room, overseeing a number of construction crew and kitchen staff, who are hastily putting the final touches on the interior.
Despite having no serious restaurant experience, the duo is surprisingly well informed. Sartiano pulls the chef aside to tell him of a discrepancy between his gnocchi samplings at the tasting the previous night, while Akiva scrutinizes the mural of an American landscape that has just been installed.
“Being in the nightclub business has really taught us how to put a team together,” explains Sartiano, defending their decision to enter the restaurant business. “It’s about how to find the right people to create the vision you want.”
To that end, they have surrounded themselves with veterans like executive chef Keith Harry, formerly of the Mercer Kitchen and Chanterelle. His new American menu will include light fare, such as gratin of salted cod with tomato and potato, toro with citrus and pepper emulsion and poached lobster with a potato ravioli drizzled with lobster sauce. The interior is designed by Andrew Philips and is a meditation on wood, from the buttery walls of its cedar-lined entrance and dining room (not unlike an ultra-luxurious sauna) to the cozier, more party-oriented downstairs cafe, with its sapling birchwood ceiling and seats carved straight out of tree trunks.
“We didn’t want to commercialize ourselves and do another Suite 16 or Pangea,” says Akiva, who admits that his patience for the club life has waned. “We’re getting older, and our crowd is changing with us.”
That crowd represents a motley mix of New Yorkers from socialites and models to fashionistas and business types. Relying on these connections, Akiva, who has always longed to have a store like Colette in Paris, has added another dimension to Butter: philanthropic boutique. He’s accrued baubles from various personages that will be displayed in cases at the entrance and then sold for charity. Michael Kors donated a one-of-a-kind crystal atomizer; Princess Firyal of Jordan sent over worry beads from the Mideast, and John Galliano gave a watch that will hit stores next year.
The duo, who counts Ian Schrager as a role model, hopes the exclusive items will attract not only the junior crowd but the older crowd as well.
“This is the kind of place where Robbie Kravis’ dad [Henry] would eat upstairs and Robbie would eat downstairs,” says Akiva, as he ticks off more upstairs/downstairs clans, like Hilton and Ronson. This ability to attract a junior/senior crowd, they say, will distinguish Butter from the rest of the pack.
“One thing Schrager is great at is realizing when something is lacking,” says Sartiano, who hopes to follow Schrager’s own progression to successful entrepreneur. Shyly, he adds: “You wouldn’t believe how many parties we’ve already turned away.”