Hire Passionate People Who Love People. I call it the hospitality gene. I hire people that are interested in creating great guest experiences — memories. Not people that want to educate the guest. I can’t stand it when a sommelier takes 20 minutes to tell me about 40 different wine regions and the nuances of the different wines. You’re not that interesting. I came to spend time with my dinner guests, not to have your agenda forced on me.
As part of our series about “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Became a Restaurateur”, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Michael Greco.
Michael Greco of Greco Entertainment is the owner and operator of Fia Santa Monica, a collaboration with celebrated chef Brendan Collins. The indoor/outdoor venue, designed by acclaimed designer Matt Winter, is an urban oasis where Greco’s service mantra is rooted in a dedication to hospitality — service, service, service. Fia’s craveable menu delivers on flavor and execution, highlighting the freshest seasonal ingredients inspired by California and Italian coastal cuisine that will satisfy all (including the vegans).
Prior to Fia, Michael Greco thrived at the center of entertainment in Las Vegas for over a decade. From baseball to stand up comedy, the New York native’s passion for entertainment drove him to create the ultimate guest experience in the entertainment capital of the world.
His journey to Las Vegas began in 2004 as the first employee of the renowned Body English, a multi-million dollar nightclub at the Hard Rock Hotel in which Greco spearheaded the conceptualization, design and opening. From night to day, Greco is also responsible for changing the face of daytime entertainment in Las Vegas with the creation of Rehab, the Sunday pool party at the Hard Rock Hotel.
In 2006, Greco moved to Pure Management Group as Vice President of Entertainment. His role was to oversee the entertainment venues of 10 properties which included nightclubs, bars and restaurants. His success is noted with PURE Nightclub at Caesars Palace being voted as the #1 nightclub in the country for two years during his tenure by E! Entertainment.
With a vast amount of celebrity connections, Greco joined Palms Casino Resort in 2009 to work directly with George Maloof in an effort to keep the brand on the cutting edge. As the Vice President of Entertainment his highlights include signing both Mariah Carey and Matt Goss to their first Las Vegas residencies.
Greco returned to Pure Management Group’s offshoot in late 2010 as the Executive Vice President of Diversified Entertainment Group working with brands such as Sugar Factory, Cabo Wabo, Chateau Nightclub and Gallery Nightclub. In 2012, he became Managing Partner of Chateau Nightclub.
In 2013, Greco opened FIZZ Las Vegas, a high-end champagne lounge, inside Caesars Palace. The winner of Hospitality Design Magazines Best Nightclub/Bar/Lounge design in the world, FIZZ is a collaboration with global entrepreneur David Furnish and his husband, Sir Elton John.
Greco left Sin City in early 2015 for Los Angeles, and reunited with Brent Bolthouse, creator of the Bungalow at the Fairmont Hotel in Santa Monica. With Greco serving as Direction of Operations, the Bungalow shattered records for revenue and EBITDA and opened a second location in Huntington Beach, where Greco is still a partner.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to ‘get to know’ you a bit. Can you share with our readers a story about what inspired you to become a restaurateur?
I like to create memories for people. I’ll never forget my first fine dining experience, which was at a restaurant in NYC called Campagnola at 74th and 1st Ave. We were celebrating my girlfriend’s birthday. She looked absolutely gorgeous and I’d bought a suit specifically for the occasion. She ordered a bottle of Veuve Clicquot, which I’d never heard of at the time. And I remember the Maitre’d shaving truffles onto carpaccio, which was a foreign concept to me. And as I looked around the room, at all the well-heeled people, feasting on fresh pastas and whole fish, and the most beautiful looking food that I’d ever seen, I remember feeling a sensation that I’d never experienced before. A sense of arrival…as if the world was welcoming me. I try to recreate that same sensation for our guests every day.
Do you have a specific type of food that you focus on? What was it that first drew you to cooking that type of food? Can you share a story about that with us?
I tend to focus on food from the Mediterranean. My favorites are Italian, French and Spanish. I grew up in an Italian household in New York, and my mother and her three sisters would spend their time in the kitchen effortlessly throwing together whatever was on that day’s menu. Lots of traditional Roman dishes, like Carbonara and Cacio e Pepe. Sunday’s were reserved for Gravy with meatballs and sausages and Braciole. No matter what they were cooking, the one constant was that they were constantly gossiping, about whatever scandal was hot at the moment. They were hilarious!
Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that happened to you since you became a restaurateur? What was the lesson or take away you took out of that story?
I was just starting out. It was New Year’s Eve in New York City, and it was absolute chaos. I was waiting tables in a private Italian club. It was about ten to midnight, and we had about 100 guests waiting for entrees. The staff were all in the kitchen yelling at the cooks and the cooks were yelling back. Nothing productive was going on. The maitre’d walked into the kitchen, saw what was going on, and turned the lights off, and in a very firm way told everyone, “to shut the f*%k up”. We stood in silence for about a minute and regained our composure. By the time we got the food out, it was evident that everyone was having a great time, and nobody was aware of the chaos that was going on behind the scenes. It was a lesson that we control the storyline. We control the guest experience and you can never let them see you sweat. What we do is not that serious. If you are calm and happy, the guest will be calm and happy.
Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey? How did you overcome this obstacle?
The hardest part of starting out is managing the personalities. Particularly, the owners who’ve never worked a day in the industry, but think because they’ve eaten in a restaurant, that they know how to run one. It took courage to walk away from the steady paycheck and trust that I knew better.
In your experience, what is the key to creating a dish that customers are crazy about?
Consistency. Dishes have to be consistent. They have to look, smell, and taste the same way every time they leave the kitchen. I like to say that they haunt the guest, and make them want to return.
Personally, what is the ‘perfect meal for you’?
The cuisine can be anything from pasta to Popeye’s fried chicken. I require great conversation and lots of laughter for it to be considered a great meal!
Where does your inspiration for creating come from? Is there something that you turn to for a daily creativity boost?
I’m inspired by so much on a daily basis — a conversation, a tv show or a trip. When all else fails, I smoke a joint.
Are you working on any new or exciting projects now? What impact do you think this will have?
We’re currently converting Fia’s lounge into a steakhouse. It’s going to be the culmination of every steakhouse I’ve ever loved. We’re also developing a Spanish restaurant featuring tapas from the Iberian Peninsula, Algarve, and Galicia.
What advice would you give to other restaurateurs to thrive and avoid burnout?
Do something else, haha. The restaurant business is 24/7, 365-days-a-year. You have to absolutely love it, and you have to be a glutton for punishment. I’ve learned to hire people that I trust and to let them do their jobs. The fastest way to burnout is to micro manage every aspect of your business. It’s a living breathing business and mistakes will happen. I’ve learned that we’ll never be perfect, but we can always strive for perfection.
Thank you for all that. Now we are ready for the main question of the interview. What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me When I First Started as a Restaurateur” and why? Please share a story or an example for each.
1. Trust Yourself. Everybody has an opinion. The two biggest food complaints in the restaurant business are, too much salt and not enough salt. The palate is completely subjective, you have to trust yourself.
2. Ignore Yelp. Yelp is the worst thing in the history of the planet. I used to read it religiously, until I realized that it is a no-win-situation. There are so many factors that go into a “review.” There are always three sides to every story: your side, my side, and the truth. And there’s never a good reason to defend yourself. It just makes it worse. When you’re defending yourself you are losing.
3. Don’t Assume That People Know What You Want. To ensure a great team, you must have an excellent training program. Nobody wants to suck. If they do, it’s my fault because I didn’t take the time to explain my expectations.
4. Hire Passionate People Who Love People. I call it the hospitality gene. I hire people that are interested in creating great guest experiences — memories. Not people that want to educate the guest. I can’t stand it when a sommelier takes 20 minutes to tell me about 40 different wine regions and the nuances of the different wines. You’re not that interesting. I came to spend time with my dinner guests, not to have your agenda forced on me.
5. It’s Theater. The restaurant business is show business. Every individual matters. From the host that welcomes you, to the server taking your order, to the bartender making your martini, to the cook making your pasta, to the busser making your coffee. Have you ever had a great meal, and then couldn’t get your check at the end of the meal? Or nobody said, thank you when you left? It can sour an otherwise great experience. It all matters. Every player matters.
What’s the one dish people have to try if they visit your establishment?
The Cavatelli with Truffles
You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
Check your phone at the door and enjoy your company. I miss the good old days of being present!
Thank you so much for these insights. This was very inspirational!