Fireman turns up heat with his new NY venture, the Redeye Grill

Fireman turns up heat with his new NY venture, the Redeye Grill – Shelly Fireman

Milford Prewitt

NEW YORK — Imagine a block and a half of prime midtown real estate, directly across the street from one of the world’s most famous concert halls at one of the busiest intersections in Manhattan, under the control of one restaurateur.

That scenario is the enviable position Shelly Fireman finds himself in these days with the opening of his newest venture, the Redeye Grill.

One of Manhattan’s most entrepreneurial restaurateurs Fireman, founder of Cafe Concepts, now controls the block between 56th Street and 57th Street along Seventh Avenue and a portion of 67th Street–the so-called boulevard of specialty theme restaurants–between Seventh and Eighth avenues.

Located directly across the street from Carnegie Hall the Redeye Grill joins Fireman’s popular Trattoria Dell Arte and his Brooklyn Diner USA for the kind of single-operator dominance in one block that is rare in midtown’s expensive real-estate market. With the exception of Drew Nieporent’s block-lock on Franklin Avenue downtown in TriBeCa and the Riese Organization’s restaurant corners where food courts blend fast-food and casual dining et the same intersections, no restaurant owner in New York enjoys the concentration of businesses that Fireman has along Seventh Avenue between 56th and 57th streets, virtually under one roof.

In addition to the Seventh Avenue operations, Cafe Concepts also operates Fiorello’s, across from Lincoln Center and Hosteria Fiorella on the East Side.

The opening of the Redeye Grill — a massive, 400-seat two-level restaurant — fulfills a game plan Fireman pursued more than three years ago when the landlord of a building adjacent to Trattoria asked him to convert the retail space of a closing Chinese furniture and antique stare into a restaurant. Fireman jumped at the opportunity.

“I knew someone would go in that space if I didn’t,” he said. “Why should I let someone else hurt my Trattoria?

“At least if Trattoria is hurt by the Redeye, I have a real insight into who the enemy is and how to deal with him.”

Fireman is quick to discount the observation that Redeye will siphon sales from Trattoria.

“First of all, I don’t believe in cannibalization in my segment of the market,” Fireman said. “The two concepts are so different-that, if anything, they are going to complement one another. They have nothing in common except a real focus on hospitality.

“I love Trattoria, but even I can’t eat there every night.”

Where Trattoria is steeped in Northern Italian culinary traditions and is famous for its plentiful antipasti bar, the Redeye Grill is an eclectic hybrid of New York and California menu themes.

In fact, the restaurant, as the name implies, was conceived for people who have just deplaned from a red-eye flight but want to eat rather than sleep. Fireman crafted the Redeye Grill as a dining center that blends good service, a vibrant ambience and a menu that blends the best of New York and California cuisine.

“I think the Redeye Grill serves a niche that has not been served in the marketplace,” Fireman said. “It’s the kind of food a New Yorker would want to find in California or a Californian would want to find in New York.”

Fireman said dinner and lunch sales have exceeded expectations at the Redeye Grill to the extent that he may consider converting some of the upstairs private party space for regular a la carte lunch. Meanwhile, requests for reservations are stretching into 1997, while hosts are forced to turn away walk-ins.

Seafood is a key marketing and entertainment theme at the Redeye Grill. It’s the first restaurant to feature what Fireman calls a “dancing shrimp bar.” In this case two bronze-colored metal sculptures of giant shrimp rotate in place above the cocktail lounge and a shrimp bar/salad station, manned continuously by a cook who fillets a wide selection of smoked fish for appetizers.

Dishes that seemed destined to became signatures are the steak frites salad, $18.95; chimichurri-pressed brick chicken with fried potatoes and tomato basil salad, $15.95; and penne with porcini-crusted chicken, portobello mushroom and truffle olive oil, $15.25.

The Redeye Grill seems destined to become one of New York’s more visually arresting restaurants. Passers-by line the large window walls, which reveal the rich colors and open space.

Upon entering Redeye Grill, diners pass underneath a large red model airplane, the icon for the restaurant. The dining room is divided into a New York Room and a California Room. In the New York Room, four-sided structural columns are adorned with rich,-hand-painted murals of Manhattan street scenes, depicting whimsicality and a bit of ribaldry.

Guests enter the California Room by passing under a large, antique portrait mural of Hollywood legends having a good time at a piano bar. The room itself is decorated in green and blonde-wood accents, which are carried through upstairs to the private dining rooms.

Centered amid hotels that have been reducing their food service facilities, the Redeye Grill is establishing room-service relationships with a few hot-els. The hotels will supply the runners, Fireman said.

“I expect we will become tire largest brunch house in the city,” he predicted.

He said two major chains already have approached him about exporting the concept to other cities.

“Everybody loves that New York-and-California dining scene,” he said. “Perhaps we will see the tastes of the coasts in the Midwest.”

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