have you seen the news about this amazing concept in crowd funding a restaurant that’s all over eater, thrillist and grub street?… sure you have, because you know this is no mere gimmick but an honestly clever idea that none other than the apartment’s own former head of design, david lefkowitz (responsible for the back apartment and yelo among too many to count) has dreamed up and launched. i have known that he and his partner, scott kester (ex-avroKO,) have been gestating this project for the last 3 years and i could not be more proud that they have finally opened the virtual doors to their category-busting idea and unveiled not just a wonderful way to do business but a dream team of collaborators: daniel patterson on menu, dale degroff on drinks and scott mou on music for starters and with more surprises to come… and i’m very excited that we’re getting a peek into their process today because i had a chance to corner david and ask him some pointed questions about his plans, dreams and spirit animal…
Stefan: Refresh my memory, who do you think you are?
David: A conceptual developer. We called ourselves many things, but at the end of the day, I think that is, at the core, what we really did at The Apartment, and that is what I am continuing to do now – “imagineering” new ways to do old things.
Stefan: After such a path, you could have been hired anywhere or started just about any kind of design business, why open a bar?
David: The bar project has become a fully-fledged restaurant & bar now, as we have had the great fortune to align ourselves with some of the most talented collaborators in the business. We like to classify it as classic cocktails paired with modern cuisine. But I digress …you asked why. Well, I certainly do love my food & drink, both high-brow and low, but the project, for me, on a deeply personal level, is really about brand-building, community-building and doing something for the greater good. To create something beneficial, from scratch, and nurture it as it grows. I think the real talent in anyone lies in recognizing the strengths of your peers, and helping them do their thing. I became great friends with Scott Kester, the man who is now my business partner. Scott is an amazing hospitality designer with a head for business (something I do not posses at all) as well as an artist, a craftsman and a (dear lord, how I hate this word) foodie. He is “The Brain” as he is affectionately known, and The Brain said four beautiful words to me; “Let’s open a bar.” My brain knew it was too good to pass up, but only if we took this opportunity to do something truly interesting. And here we are.
Stefan: As The Apartment’s head designer, you never seemed particularly keen to switch places with me and “be a boss.” what inspired the change?
David: The Boss is Bruce Springsteen. I am just the curator of an interactive art-show whose content will be a thing of beauty.
Stefan: Ok, give me the pitch for The Elevens.
David: The idea is simple, really. Being a regular patron at your favorite establishment is a wonderful thing. Think how lovely it is for you, Stef, when you walk in to Balthazar. They adore you there, and you love going. Of course, to become a regular you need to frequent the place, um, frequently. You need to engage the staff, endearingly, of course, and you will find they return in kind – by doing so, you have carved out a special place for yourself. Same here. At The Elevens, people enjoy the benefits of being a regular, by becoming “Seatholders” for only $500. We have a section in the website called Do The Math. The savings adds up quite quickly. It really is a no-brainer.
Stefan: What’s in it for the Seatholder? And what’s in it for me?
David: The short answer is a discount. Seatholders receive 25% off their check, for as long as they so desire to remain a Seatholder. A Seatholder, however, is more than just a regular. A Seatholder is empowered with a true sense of participation in the development of the establishment. They are free to voice their opinions and influence the organization through tastings & events, contribute recipes, add to the cocktail database, vote music up or down, and share wisdom. I mentioned discounts as the short answer, but for me the real benefit, what I am absolutely over the moon about, is the community this participation is creating. The fellowship and conviviality, if you will. What’s in it for you? What is in it for anyone who walks in the door, Seatholder and non-Seatholder alike, is exceptional quality and service in a civilized and pristine environment, that will not break the bank.
Stefan: How are “upscale” and “affordable” not mutually exclusive?
David: Easy. We are always very carefully considering the cost to value relationship. I enjoy a good whiskey every now and again (and again) and have a special fondness for rye. At $16-20 a bottle, Old Overholt easily bests other rye whiskeys three times the price. Nor does its more-than-reasonable price-point make it an embarrassing bastard stepchild. It is a high quality product that sits proudly on the back-bars of fine establishments worldwide. These sorts of victories are pervasive throughout our entire organization.
Stefan: To a certain extent, your micro-financing take on funding a retail establishment is not just a matter of money but also of community, of building-in a group of like-minded people who share your vision of pleasure. What is that vision?
David: Interestingly, we are already getting loads of wonderful questions, comments and suggestions from Seatholders and curious parties. Simply being involved in this project puts you on common ground with the Seatholder next to you. It is our deepest desire that this fosters communication and the trading of core competencies. A favorite quote comes from Margaret Mead, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” We would be overjoyed if The Elevens became a hub of activity for revolutionaries with the desire to improve the world. Lofty? Perhaps. But consider this – I quote Jon Taffer, “George Washington was the first distiller in America. Bars are where the founding fathers met, where the Declaration of Independence was first discussed.” We don’t actually consider ourselves to be building a bar… we are building a community that meets at the bar.
Stefan: Are you now finally ready to admit you stole the office stapler in the summer of 2004 when everyone was at lunch?
David: The only thing I have stolen from you …is your heart. And a sleeveless t-shirt I do not have the guns for. One incredibly snow-stormy afternoon, Pia and I shirked our responsibilities and went to the movies – so I guess you can say I stole some time too (which was atoned for by shoveling-out the snow in front of the shop). But that is it, I solemnly swear.
Stefan: In what way is The Elevens a club? And in what way is it not?
David: We are not fond of calling it a club because it is, in fact, open to everyone. But I suppose you could say it is a club of like-minded individuals who recognize and appreciate quality and value, and have capitalized on the opportunity to participate. As such, The Elevens is no static thing. We are excited to see how Seatholder involvement inspires and influences change organically throughout. It is not a dance club, country club, ball club, golf club, playing card, or a heavy blunt weapon.
Stefan: How would you describe the typical patron at The Elevens? and by that I mean, would my mother get in?
David: The typical Seatholder has been described above. But I would say the typical patron, Seatholder or not, would be anyone looking for artisanal ingredients made with love by the masters of their craft (https://the11s.com/#ethos3), in a beautiful environment where they can actually hear themselves in a conversation. More than that, an actual demographic, I cannot say. We are completely egalitarian – there is no profiling whatsoever. Astute tipplers will be sitting next to molecular gastronomists of all kinds. The Elevens will become what the participants want it to become. As to your mother – well, she happens to be one of my favorite people. She is a rockstar whom we would be delighted, honored, and privileged to serve.
there you go, right from the man’s mouth! and so i cannot encourage you enough to go and pledge to become a seatholder and have a part of the most unique experiment to hit new york since debbie harry. i’m counting on you and i’ll see you there! in the meantime, have an excellent week!