Thursday, June 26, 2008
Glaring lack of nudity
The last time I went to the opening of a The Pump Energy Food — in an office-building food court in Midtown East — beautiful people wearing, for all practical purposes, nothing but silver body paint were on display. Others, dressed in gym clothes and sprayed with silver glitter, were placed on various pieces of exercise equipment, half-working out and half just looking great. Young men with intimidatingly good bodies in strategically ripped sleeveless t-shirts were pouring frozen Margaritas.
Because, you see, The Pump billed itself as serving “physical fitness cuisine” and bragged about not having added salt, sugar or oil. That marketing technique has proven time and again to be disastrous for sales in restaurants. So often has food that’s supposed to be good for us tasted like it was made by sadists that we’ve learned to shun it. Put one of those heart-healthy symbols by a menu item, and sales of it will likely go down. Really, they will.
Attitudes have changed a bit recently, however, and this current wave of good-for-you menu items looks like it has more staying power than previous ones (remember the McLean Deluxe?).
I think a big reason for that is that the health food itself has changed. A lot of it tastes good now. And the marketing has changed, too — it’s not called health food anymore.
The food at The Pump has actually always been good, which is why it has managed to stay open in New York all these years despite signage that shouts at customers about how its food has no added oil. In fact, The Pump has quite a few devotees in New York — you can tell them by their muscle definition and by your ability to bounce quarters off their butts.
The little chain’s founder, Steve Kapelonis, and his wife Elena recently took on business partners and moved to Tampa. The new management, under CEO Adam Eskin, has decided to re-image the place: Change its décor from haimische to sleek; de-emphasize the low-fat aspect of the food and focus on its energy — a buzzword that sells food, especially if the people buying it are younger than 30.
“Last time there were naked people in body paint,” I complained to Steve, who was at the party with Elena. Because I'm not ashamed to say that I like naked people in body paint.
Steve introduced me to Adam, who introduced me to his consigliere Dan Fogarty (really, Dan’s business card says he’s the chain’s consigliere, and he took the picture that illustrates this blog entry).
Not long ago Dan was the marketing guy for Chipotle, where his title was brand leader and keeper of the faith. No fooling.
Adam looks simultaneously wonkish and like a guy who eats at The Pump. I also met operations manager Danny Lachs. People say he and Adam look like they’re related, but they don’t really. I think they just kind of occupy a similar space.
The guy who designed the new restaurant is Garrett Singer, whom I met back in 2001 when he was designing Tiger Blossom, the brainchild of Chris Cheung, who is now the chef at Monkey Bar.
Tiger Blossom failed to thrive — its opening in the summer of 2001 didn’t help — but the space was cool, with lots of found objects and a desire to combine elegance and an awareness that the restaurant was on the same block as the Hells Angels headquarters. Since then Garrett, who earned his chops working for Larry Bogdanow, has designed Klee and Hill Country as well as the new The Pump Energy Food.
Garret and I chatted about the food scene. We reminisced about Sono, a restaurant he helped design with Bogdanow where Tadashi Ono was chef. It closed right before 9/11 — I remember, because my colleague Paul Frumkin was going to write a little column about how it was too bad it closed, but then the towers fell and you couldn’t write anything about anything else in New York for the next year.
Despite the glaring lack of near-nudity, the party was packed, but it was time for me to go. My friend Kenyon’s band, Unisex Salon, was performing at the Bowery Ballroom.
Kenyon is a good-natured yet dark-humored guy with a gift for conversation and a voice reminiscent of David Bowie’s. Adding to his fan base, I think, is the fact that he looks like Jared Leto and often performs shirtless.
It was a good show, and it reminded me of how bad the sound can be at The Mercury Lounge, where Kenyon also performs from time to time. I think everyone else in the band, except for his drummer, of course, was new. He’d even added another singer. On keyboards was Brian Gumbel, a guy who, as far as I’m concerned, has revolutionized the tuxedo. He was jacketless, but the cummerbund was in place. The collar was open, and the bow-tie was tied instead around his neck, Chippendale-style. Kenyon, who was, in fact, shirtless, called it the“coitus interruptus James Bond look.”
So if that’s how I’m dressed at the next black tie event, you’ll know where I got the idea. But I have a feeling that it really only works if you’re on stage and have the looks of an Italian prince.
Posted by Bret Thorn at 11:53 AM