by Raffaella Pietropaolo
Talking to someone who decided to make use of his success and social status to take social responsibility and further the causes he believes in feels like a breath of fresh air. The conversation with Mr. Ravi DeRossi unveiled his fundamental truth and the recipe of his good fortune: “dumb luck” and to be oneself without giving to one’s life too much importance. The man who created 15 hip cocktail bars and restaurants in lower Manhattan and Brooklyn and who now decided to go vegan with all of his prosperous businesses is someone who follows his instincts and creative impulses to shape his “night visions” into places where people can enjoy the quality of food, drinks, atmosphere and service. Popularity is not a main concern for Mr DeRossi but if he can use it to advance the work of animal welfare groups or human rights organization the better. Here is a man you would have the pleasure to meet.
R: Mr. DeRossi, there’s been a lot written about you but it is my wish to know you through your eyes. Could you tell us what do you think of yourself?
DeRossi: I am no one, really no one. I don’t really give much importance to myself; there are too many people on this earth to think that my life is meaningful. If my life becomes meaningful to somebody, great! I don’t really think about it. I’m not controlled by my hubris; I live according to my morals and my ethics and I don’t really care about what people think about me.
R: Saying that you are a successful man is possibly an understatement, you own already 15 bars and restaurants and it seems you have no intention to stop there. Why did you choose to be a restaurateur in the first place?
DeRossi: I didn’t really choose it, it was more out of necessity and bad luck that I got into this business. I was an artist and after September 11 the economy slowed down and it became harder and harder to live and to make money as an artist. I needed to make money, I couldn’t do it by being an artist any longer and I really like to drink, so I opened a bar. Now it’s the job that chooses me. Probably if I could go back in time I wouldn’t do it but sometimes it’s fun!
R: Before becoming a restaurateur you dedicated energy, talent and time to painting. Have you brought anything of those years into your restaurants?
DeRossi: Yeah, I have a very poor business mind and a very creative mind. I design all my restaurants and bars and I work with the chefs and the various directors. I also believe that my creativity is the reason why some of my places have done so well.
R: Among these 15 bars/restaurants, some like Sol and Bourgeois Pig, your very first wine bar, have changed into a new adventure. Are other restaurants of yours metamorphosing as well to give life to something different?
DeRossi: Yes! They’re all constantly metamorphosing and even the ones that stay the same adjust because we’re continually growing and technology keeps developing. At the end of the day people like and dislike these transformations. More clearly, I wanted to get out of the meat and dairy industry all together. In the case of Sol, I didn’t want to serve sea food anymore, so I turned it into a champagne bar, Bourgeois Pig is now Ladybird and is completely plant-based as also Mother of Pearl. However, also the businesses that stayed the same like Death & Co and Mayahuel are constantly metamorphosing with time and culture. Recently I closed Burgen Hill and turned it into a new bar called Coup. We donate 100% of the profit to organizations that are currently being defunded by the Trump administration or that fight the Trump administration like ACLU, Planned Parenthood, NRDC, Human Rights Watch, Human Rights Campaign etc.
R: Everything about the restaurant cocktail bar Mother of Pearl looks fresh, light, cheerful, elegant and feminine, from the food and cocktails to the design and the atmosphere created. What is the vision you had in mind opening this bar? Does it have anything of Gin Palace or did you change concept altogether?
DeRossi: You mentioned femininity; I think I am rather more in touch with my feminine side than my masculine side. Everything I do comes from my feminine perspective. When I conceptualize any bar or restaurant, it literally comes to me in a flash in the middle of the night. I get one second of inspiration and then I go and open it if I can. Also, together with making the menu of every restaurant vegan, we are trying to make our establishments more sustainable, recycling or using sustainable products. For instance, we’re not using plastic straws but paper straws because they biodegrade. Mother of Pearl was exactly what I wanted it to be at the beginning, now it is plant-based but it has nothing to do with Gin Palace, it just happens to occupy the same space. Gin Palace was doing well, it was forced to close because the building had started sinking into the ground and the landlord had to do some major renovations. He closed Gin Palace for almost a year and when he finished the works he had to do, he had ripped out the ceiling and the floor. When I got the space back I figured why not just try something different.
R: What would somebody find in one of your restaurants that they wouldn’t find elsewhere?
DeRossi: Probably you could find something equivalent in the city but all the people who work in my restaurants and bars are very passionate about what they do. First of all, we try to leave our egos at the door, we are into the hospitality industry and I think there’s a problem in this sector with egos and hubris which leads to poor customer service. One thing we try to do is to check all of that at the door so when you come to work in one of my places, you’re there because you want to be there. It’s not just a job, you’re passionate about it and you like to serve. That’s what we are! When we meet beforehand with the chefs and the stuff we don’t set out to be mediocre, we don’t try to serve what everybody else is serving, we want to be the best in the world! We failed most of the times, I think maybe twice we’ve succeeded but we always try to be and I guess that’s something.
R: Your restaurants and bars can be compared to film settings; many represent the Spanish and South-American cultures. Could you tell us the reasons why you are so drawn to such lifestyles?
DeRossi: I am not drawn to any way of life rather than my own, I just like to create. It doesn’t matter if that means creating something that is South American or European. I also plan to open an Asian and an Indian restaurant. I plan a lot of different things and I’ve done a lot of different things. I can see where you’re coming from and why you would think that, I have a Spanish place, a Cuban place, a Peruvian one, but it’s just a coincidence, I’ve never been to South America or Mexico, I spent more time in Europe and Asia.
R: Does the choice to go vegan with all of your menus have to do with your personal beliefs? Are you vegan yourself?
DeRossi: Yes, I’m vegan myself and it wasn’t really a choice. I woke up one day and said to myself that this is what I have to do, that I can no longer be involved in the dairy or meat industries and that’s for several reasons. There’s three main reasons to be considered vegan, one being animal rights issues, the second being environmental issues; it’s a fact that the largest cause of greenhouse gases and global warming in the world is factory farming, and the third being health issues, at least in the United States the number one killer is heart disease and the main cause of heart disease is the consumption of meat and dairy products. Therefore, it wasn’t really a choice; I couldn’t be a part of this anymore. However, for me it’s more of an animal rights issue; I have several animals I live with that are very important to me. It doesn’t make sense to love my dogs and cats and eat cows or pigs or chickens because they’re all the same. We’ve been brainwashed into thinking that there’s a difference between a pig and a dog but there really is no difference.
R: You’re also supporting BEAST. Could you tell us what that is?
DeRossi: I started BEAST a couple of years ago, it stands for “benefits to end animal suffering today”. It’s a non-profit, what we do is throwing parties to raise money to devolve to animal rights organizations that are on the ground getting things done. I want to be more involved in supporting animal rights but I don’t have the time to go out and volunteer because I work so much but what I do have is these cool restaurants and bars and I know a lot of people with money and a lot of celebrities so I can invite them to my parties, charge them a lot of money and give that to people that are doing good.
R: How do you choose your chefs? What kind of relationship do you entertain with them?
DeRossi: Chefs are recommended to me by other chefs or by friends and then we do tastings with them and if their food is good and I can afford them I’ll hire them. As far as my personal relationship goes with them, with some I am really close with some not. I have at this point more than two hundred employees; surely I spend more time with the chefs and the general managers and I have more of a relationship with them.
R: Do you have a favorite dish or recipe?
DeRossi: It really changes. I have tastings with the chefs almost every day of my life.
R: What is the perfect dinner from starter to dessert?
DeRossi: I rarely ever sit down for a full meal. I sort of live my life in bites and naps. I don’t know what the perfect dinner would contain; it just would need to have vegetables and a hundred different bites and items. I like a bite of this and bite of that. It would need to have avocado in it, that’s probably my favorite food in the world, other than that I’m open to anything.
R: I am asking now a personal advice. I am a gin lover but I do not like any sweet or flowery taste while drinking bitters. What gin tonic should I order according to you and with what gin type?
DeRossi: If I’m drinking gin I’ll usually have a dry shaken dirty martini with Plymouth gin. I like it really dirty! Or I’ll just have a simple Beefeater gin and tonic but any dry London gin would do, I would choose a Beefeater. 2 ounces of gin, 45 ounces of tonic, 2 lime wedges, 1 squeeze once you put in the gin, one after you put in the tonic and highly carbonated.
R: What is your personal philosophy?
DeRossi: I sort of live my life as if I were drunk all the time even if I’m not. I don’t think. I just do. You know, you can judge a man by his actions more than his words. I don’t preach a lot, I live by example. Does that make sense?
R: Absolutely! Nevertheless, do you still act based on what you believe into?
DeRossi: Oh yeah, you have to. Otherwise you have no integrity.
R: Could you describe us in few words what food is to you?
DeRossi: Honestly and, this is not the answer you want, it’s really just sustenance. It gives me energy to get through the day, do my job and live my life. It’s not something that I’m passionate about. I love eating vegetables and vegetarian dishes but for me it’s a means to an end. If I don’t eat I can’t get through the day and I can’t get my job done, so I eat.
R: Does it matter if the food is good or not?
DeRossi: Not always. I know that sounds terrible! (He laughs). I rarely eat out anymore; I used to do it all the time. Honestly, I wake up and I eat a banana and an avocado, then maybe later I’ll have another avocado and some rice and vegetables. If you could say that a good piece of fruit is a good piece of fruit then yes, of course, I like good food. I’m also very picky about my avocados, if I get an avocado that’s too soft or too hard I can’t eat it. It has to be perfectly right, so I guess I’m picky about quality but I don’t look for the perfect dinner.
R: Who are your customers?
DeRossi: Having so many establishments I don’t really know but I would say that there’s a lot of cool kids that come to my places and by no means I think that I’m a cool kid. We see people from all ages but it is mainly a younger crowd from 21 to 35 years old. We see Millennials, Gen X, and people from all walks of life.
R: A curiosity: in every picture I have seen of you, you were always dressed in black. Is it a sheer coincidence or is black really your color?
DeRossi: My all life I just pretty much wore black. It’s just because it’s easy. I open my closet and everything’s black so I don’t have to make a decision about what to wear. I hate deciding because I have so many decisions to make in my normal life and I don’t want clothes to be one of them.
R: Is there anything about yourself we do not already know that you would like to share with us?