19 NYC Restaurant Power Players You Need to Know

By Kirsten Stamn  |  October 29, 2013

Famous chefs are frequently name-dropped for prestige, but there's a whole host of individuals in the industry who are calling the shots behind the scenes. From restaurateurs who are opening the most exciting spots in the city, to directors of innovative bar programs and feverishly adored bakers, these people are just as important in ensuring a restaurant’s success. Here, an insider's guide to the power players. Pay attention to them, and you’ll know about the city’s hottest happenings before anyone else.

  • Eamon Rockey

    Perhaps you’ve heard of Eamon Rockey’s new venture, Betony. He’s not only general manager at the raved-about seasonal American, he also oversees the cocktail program, bringing creative, inventive drinks to the table (see: housemade fermented root beer). Rockey’s also got a great résumé, having previously worked at Eleven Madison Park, Atera and Aska. Indeed, he's the FOH maestro with the golden touch.

  • Robert Bohr

    Before running the wine program (and acting as co-owner) of one of the most talked-about restaurants this year, Charlie Bird, Bohr received plenty of accolades as the wine director and partner at the now-defunct Cru in the West Village. We love that he offers inspired pairings with dishes, as well as finds plenty of value bottles for the casual crowd, all while giving a face and personality to the workings of the cellar. He's a big reason that this spot has become such an industry hangout. 

  • Richie Notar

    Notar is an industry legend, thanks in part to his start at Studio 54 and his former status as the managing partner of Nobu. Now he’s bringing back old-time glamour with a hospitality company of his own, which we can thank for Harlow, a sleek and glitzy Upper East haunt for the upper-crust, and the eagerly anticipated revival of Harlem's iconic Lenox Lounge. Oh, and he’s the man who will be bringing us the insanely craveable pastries from New Orleans' Dwight Henry, owner of Buttermilk Drop and star of Beasts of the Southern Wild, by opening next door to the lounge a spin-off of the bakery.

  • Einat Admony

    What's the Balaboosta way? Just read the blog and taste the sensational Middle Eastern and Mediterranean food by Admony, and you'll want to know all her secrets. Taking a cue from her native Tel Aviv, she first opened the falafel joint Taïm in 2007 (there are now two branches) and later Balaboosta with her husband Stefan Nafziger in NoLita, which has won over crowds with its creative yet comforting fare and homey service. Next on deck is Bar Bolonat, a contemporary Israeli in the West Village. With a new cookbook out too, she's a force to be reckoned with, both inside and outside the kitchen.

  • The EMM Guys

    Eugene Remm and Mark Birnbaum are the minds behind the eponymous EMM Group, which the duo founded in 2006. Since then, they've turned their venture into a scene-making machine, finding that middle ground between the restaurant world and nightlife that Downtown New Yorkers love. The Meatpacking District's Catch is still a hot reservation (on Monday nights the lounge on the roof turns into a clubhouse for A-listers), and The General on the LES has helped lead the revitalization of the Bowery south of Houston. Their model wouldn't work if the food weren't actually good: they've done a great job recruiting talent, working with Top Chef winner Hung Huynh at both restaurants, and recently opening La Cenita with former La Esquina chef Akhtar Nawab at the helm. All signs point to another hit.

  • Nicole Ponseca

    Ponseca was a woman on a mission: after realizing there were no good Filipino options in town, she worked eight years in the restaurant industry as a hostess, waitress and dishwasher (while, let us point out, working full-time as an ad exec) before opening her own place, Filipino gastropub Maharlika, which started off as a series of pop-up brunches. Next up was Jeepney, a favorite in the East Village serving Filipino comfort food (on Thursday nights, you can eat the fare straight off of banana leaves with your hands). Such creativity and vision make her a total firecracker, so we’re curious to see what she comes up with next.

  • John McDonald

    Every New York foodie should know the name John McDonald - the man is, after all, one of the most prolific restaurateurs in the city. His collection includes Lure Fishbar, El Toro Blanco and B&B (and he's also the co-founder of Tasting Table), and he recently unveiled plans to open a steakhouse in the East Village, coming next spring. This is good news for those who are still mourning the loss of MercBar, his just-shuttered SoHo night spot.

  • Credit: Daniel Kreiger

    Alexander Smalls

    This chef and restaurateur is bringing old-school glamour back to Harlem, with an assist from Richard Parsons, former Time Warner chairman and CEO. Smalls spearheaded a type of cooking that he calls "Southern Revival" and gained legions of fans at his previous restaurants, Café Beulah, Sweet Ophelia's and The Shoebox Cafe. Now he's just debuted a duo of stylish Harlem restaurants that come packed with buzz. The Cecil is more casual and billed as an Afro-Asian-American brasserie, while Minton's evokes a bygone age with its live jazz and jackets-required policy. Both promise to be destinations that will lure more diners Uptown.

  • Dale Talde, John Bush and David Massoni

    This trio upped the epicurean ante in Park Slope with TALDE, the perpetually packed Pan-Asian helmed by the eponymous chef, as well as the more affordable neighborhood hangs Thistle Hill Tavern and Pork Slope. But their cozy Brooklyn enclave is soon to be shaken up a bit when they open an outpost of TALDE over in Jersey City next fall. With their horizons expanding in a big way, they're sure to keep the surprises coming.

  • Allison and Matt Robicelli

    The Robicellis are not only Brooklyn’s most beloved cupcake duo, they're also proving their talent and business savvy on other fronts. With a long-awaited brick-and-mortar shop opening up in Bay Ridge - sidestepping trendier nabes - plus a recently released cookbook, they and their delicious confections are proving unstoppable. Allison also offers frank, funny updates and commentary about their projects on Tumblr, endearing fans to the couple as well as their cupcakes.

  • Marcel Van Ooyen

    These days it seems like there's a Greenmarket on every corner, but it wasn't always that way. As the executive director of GrowNYC, Marcel Van Ooyen has been an integral part in bringing fresh fruit and veggies to NYC dwellers of all stripes. Before his stint helping to expand fresh produce sales throughout NYC and increasing the ease of using food stamps in the markets, Van Ooyen was the legislative director for the City Council. Now his organization supports 54 farmer's markets, lends a hand to community gardens and helps train the next generation of farmers. Up next, GrowNYC just announced a pop-up market in JFK, ensuring out-of-town visitors will see our freshest face as they travel through the terminal.

  • Will Malnati and Doug Jacob

    Uttered in the Windy City, one of this duo's last names is all about the famous deep-dish pizza. But here in New York, the younger generation of the pizza icons (pictured above, right, with partner Doug Jacob) is making a name for himself while he launches some of the most buzzed-about spots in town with Jacob. The young up and comers partnered with Boston-based chefs and co-owners Ken Oringer and Jamie Bissonnette to open the obsessed-over NYC branch of Toro, and he's also behind Willow Road, a trendy American in Chelsea. These two projects aren’t the last you’ll hear about them either - another Chelsea venture is reportedly on the way.

  • Ignacio Mattos and Thomas Carter

    It’s a dream duo over at one of the year’s most talked-about openings: Mattos is one of the most fiery, creative chefs to hit the New York food scene of late, and Carter, who previously ran the beverage program over at Blue Hill at Stone Barns, is one of the country’s most respected sommeliers. Together with partner Mark Connell, who owns Botanica downstairs, they managed to flawlessly pull off a big opening with practically unanimous praise. With a snack-centric menu and 200 wine picks (not to mention the distinctive cocktails), they’ve made Estela one of the most fun go-to restaurants in the city in a matter of months.