As the owner-operator of innovative cocktail bars and restaurants in New York, Washington DC, and Atlanta in the US, Gerber Group is a true global hospitality industry leader.
Here, its Principal and CEO Scott Gerber – who has also been featured on the hit show Undercover Boss – shares his unique insight into the sector, as well as his advice for what to do in the current situation.
Interview by Jo Caruana.
Mr Gerber, could you talk us through your earliest memories of the company?
I was in the real estate industry at the time and at a meeting with (entrepreneur, hotelier) Ian Schrager when the origins of Gerber Group first became a reality. To my surprise Ian asked my brother and I to open a new bar at one of his hotel projects, which became our first venue – The Whiskey at the Paramount Hotel in New York. The space was designed by Philippe Starck and David Rockwell, and it brought a lot of buzz to a then-unpopular neighbourhood. I remember lines of people trying to get in on a nightly basis. Before this, no one sought out hotel bars as a place to go, which is why our first property is really credited with starting the boutique hotel bar category.
How would you describe Gerber Group today and what are you most proud of?
Gerber Group is a hospitality industry leader that continues to redefine the industry with creative bars and restaurants – often in partnership with hotels –featuring renowned beverage programmes accompanied by culinary talents. We are most proud of the longevity of our properties and the team we’ve grown – many of our team members have been with us since the very beginning (that’s almost 30 years!). That’s also inclusive of our hotel partners; in an industry that can be trendy and fickle, our hotel partners have remained loyal to us, understanding that our properties have a proven track record of increasing occupancy rates and adding to the destination draw of a property.
What have been your own landmark moments?
I consider every new property opening a landmark moment. When guests come through those doors and express their appreciation or say how impressed they are, that’s a win. Our team and the service we provide is a priority for us, so every time we get a compliment about a team member, that’s also a proud moment. Finally, when we make mistakes, we acknowledge them, fix them, and become better – learning moments are always landmark moments to us.
You took part in Undercover Boss – what did this highlight for you, both about Gerber Group, and yourself?
It was a very eye-opening experience. For me, I knew how important my father Jordan’s relationship was with our staff, and the hole he left when he passed away 10 years ago. It provided the opportunity to learn so much about my employees – the work they do every day, along with their impactful life stories. We consider our company to be our family, and our company considers us family. This experience also furthered my passion to support our team, both in and outside of the workplace.
What drives Gerber Group, and what makes it unique?
Gerber Group is driven by the wonderful people we get to work with every day; they are what makes us unique. Additionally, the new project opportunities we are presented with, and bringing them to fruition, brings unique and rewarding challenges to our whole team.
What are the current establishments run by the Group, and what defines them in the busy F&B landscape?
We have impressive and stylish spaces, great music, an amazing cocktail program, but most of all, we have a fun and friendly staff that holds hospitality to an extremely high standard. They are The Campbell (Grand Central Terminal), Mr. Purple (Hotel Indigo LES), Irvington (W Union Square), The Crown (Hotel 50 Bowery), The Sunken Lounge (TWA Hotel), The Pool Bar & Observation, Deck (TWA Hotel), Connie (TWA Hotel), Kingside (LaGuardia Airport), 12 Stories (InterContinental Washington D.C. – The Wharf), Whiskey Blue (W Atlanta – Buckhead).
What do guests like most about the Gerber product?
I believe it’s a number of components packaged into an extremely desirable venue experience. Stylish space, fun music, delicious cocktails and elevated service; they are key for bringing back customers again and again.
What drives you to keep growing and innovating?
New opportunities are always exciting for the team – they encourage everyone to contribute creatively, provide different perspectives and allow skills to be highlighted. In the end, when all of that hard work comes to fruition and our guests are happy, that’s a driver for the next one.
Sustainability has become a vital part of the sector today – what is Gerber Group doing about that side of things?
Everything we can! We avoid using plastic wherever possible and work with brands that are bringing new non-plastic product options to the market. Gerber Group has always focused on local sourcing whenever possible, so our guests know exactly what is on our menus, where it’s coming from, and, in turn, supports local farms and businesses. This has always been a big part of our DNA.
Where do you see Gerber Group in the next 5-10 years?
We will continue to do what we do best – grow and develop the best team that continues to open differentiated F&B venues for our guests. For me that means continuing to enjoy every day I get to come to work, and maybe one day some of my children will want to join the Gerber Group work family as well!
How do you see the F&B sector evolving in the next decade? What are the trends we should be watching out for?
It’s difficult to say what will have an impact on business five to 10 years from now, but I believe we’ll continue to see the evolution of a few key trends – cannabis, organic/sustainably produced goods, and less meat.
What is the Gerber Group doing to soften the effects of the Covid-19 crisis?
Among the things we have done, we have set up a ‘Pantry’ at Irvington, that will provide free food for the Gerber Group staff for the foreseeable future. All food surplus from the closed venues has been provided to staff, and Gerber Group is continuing to place food orders with their small local vendors to ensure the pantry stays replenished (while continuing to provide business to these companies). Gerber Group is offering a delivery service to any staff that are unable to make it to the food pantry at Irvington. Beyond that, we have set up a GoFundMe page, with 100 per cent of proceeds going towards supporting the food pantry and/or providing financial assistance to team members who are no longer able to earn a living during this time.
What is your advice to other businesses in the sector at the moment? How can they conserve cash?
I recommend suspending any non-essential contracts, negotiating with large vendors on credit and payment schedules, and prioritising paying smaller vendors who need your cash to stay afloat. Beyond that, of course you should help where you can and stay inside.
What do you hope to be your legacy of your time at the helm?
I hope for my eventual legacy to show that I was a fair and good partner to our team, that we developed lasting properties, and that we had fun doing it!