Scott Gerber Builds Bars, Buys Cars
The head of the Gerber Group spends his time pushing the nightlife scene and collecting cars. Not such a bad deal.
Scott Gerber wakes up early. This is not an insignificant fat and may separate him from the other luminaries in his industry. One of the game’s reigning kings of hospitality, Gerber runs Gerber Group, which owns and operates an always growing number of hip bars and restaurants, including New York hotspots Whiskey Park, Stone Rose Lounge and Kingside as well as smaller constellations of cool in Atlanta, Ft. Lauderdale, and Santiago, Chile.
We met up with Gerber at one of the properties his company manages, The Roof atop the Viceroy Hotel on 57th Street in Manhattan. It’s a perfect autumn night, the happy hour crowd is just gaining momentum, and a near-flawless view of Central Park spreads out in front of us. “I think the hardest part of what I do is that people see this – great drinks, the view – and they think what I do is glamorous,” he says. “It’s not. In fact it is really, really hard.”
Gerber used to work in commercial real estate, brokering flagship deals for Dolce & Gabbana, Hermes, Armani and the lake. But, like any real estate guy worth his listings, he was always looking for his next venture. Then, in 1991, he went in on The Whiskey at New York’s Paramount Hotel with his brother Rande. “We really had no idea what we were doing with Whiskey, but we hired the right people and were willing to learn,” he remembers. The bar anticipated the late nineties, early aughts hotel bar boom and became a sleeper hit. Scott and his brother opened another. And another. And another. In just five years, they went from patrons to the owners of seven properties.
At that point, Armani, who had been a real estate client of Gerber’s, asked him to come in and consult on four of their ailing Armani Cafés, and to orchestrate the opening of an Armani Café in New York. It went well and deals with Donald Trump and Starwood Hotels followed.
At one point, Gerber was opening three Starwood properties a year. Fast forward to today. Gerber Group pulls in over $50 million in revenue annually through some 18 properties, and Scott Gerber is not slowing down. A massive hotel bar on the Lower East Side is planned for next year. A consulting project with Barney’s Fred’s restaurant in in the works. A grungy-luxe underground bar built in collaboration with artist Domingo Zapata just opened under the W Hotel in Union Square.
“I really love this business,” he says. “It has the highest rate of failure of any business in the country, but I love working in collaboration with people. I treat everyone like family.” One employee, he recalls, started out as a bouncer at a Gerber property, then worked his way up to assistant manager, general manager, and is now a managing partner of the company. “I love that,” Gerber says.
There is a distinction, however, between Gerber’s work family and personal family. We were surprised to discover that Gerber doesn’t live in some TriBeCa penthouse or West Village town home, but rather, a typical house an hour north in Bedford. He is married, and has two children, and tries really, really hard to keep a semblance of a normal life. If he can’t make it home for dinner, he is certainly there when the kids wake up to send them off to school. “I could have chosen to live in the city, maybe have a shorter commute, but it’s important to me to keep that boundary of having family separate.” Gerber spends his summers at a lake house in Montana. “People are always asking me to do something, a restaurant or bar, in Montana and in Bedford, but I never will. For me, my family is always going to come first.”
When it comes to enjoying his success, Gerber, who lives an hour north of the city in the sleep, well-to-do town of Bedford, is pretty focuses on cars. He has ten or eleven (he can’t recall) rides at the moment, including the Tesla he drives to work. He also keeps a Porsche, a Range Rover, and a beat up Jeep he keeps on his ranch in Montana. But his favorite investment, bar none, is something rather simple.
“It isn’t the most fancy car ever,” he says. “It’s a 1972 SL Mercedes that my father passed down to me when he passed away a few years ago. When my brother and I were young, we dented it while playing baseball. It’s still got the dent.”