Phil Suarez, Founder
Born and raised in Washington Heights in New York City, Phil Suarez’s combination of swagger and savoir faire is legendary in both the restaurant and production industry.
A college sports career pitching on the first athletic scholarship ever to be awarded in the history of advertising parlayed itself into a part-time job at renowned advertising executive George Lois’ television production department. His experience under mentor and boss George Lois led Suarez to partner with Bob Giraldi. The two formed Giraldi Suarez Productions in 1973 and went on to produce award-winning commercials and music videos. As his company continued to thrive, Suarez saw a natural extension of his production life into the restaurant business, saying, “It was like going from one theatre to another. I loved that I could translate the art of production into another realm equally thrilling to me as music and television”.
In 1980, he opened his first restaurant, Positano, which was inspired by his time spent traveling and absorbing the decadent culinary gems of southern Italy. The restaurant evoked the flavors of its eponymous coastal village and paved the way for Suarez’s relationship with internationally renowned chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten. In 1991, the two opened JoJo, a contemporary French atelier that went on to earn sterling accolades including three stars from The New York Times and the title of 1992 “Restaurant of the Year” from Esquire magazine.
Suarez went on to create Patria, an homage to his Puerto Rican heritage. The restaurant was a pioneer, bringing the then-unfamiliar flavors of Latin America into a fine dining context and furthering the career of Chef Douglas Rodriguez, often called the father of Nuevo-Latino cuisine. Patria was a launching pad for Suarez whose projects have come to include national and international dining destinations like Gigino Trattoria, Vong restaurants, Jean Georges, Mercer Kitchen and Prime Steakhouse. The subsequent years would see the opening of acclaimed restaurants like Chambers Kitchen, Perry St, Lucy and Spice Market, a temple of Southeast Asian street food. Suarez and Vongerichten, who have worked together for more than 20 years, continue to create restaurants that are both timely and enduring such as their most recent NY opening, Matsugen, in which they partnered with Japan’s Matsushita brothers to create an upscale Japanese restaurant serving authentic soba as well as sushi and hot dishes.
Suarez’s newest venture with Vongerichten is a partnership with Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide, Inc. and private equity firm Catterton Partners to create an international, multi-concept restaurant and licensing business under the company name Culinary Concepts by Jean-Georges. This new business will develop, own, operate, manage and license world-class restaurants created by Jean-Georges, including New York City’s highly successful Spice Market, new-to-be-developed multi-unit Jean-Georges restaurant concepts and freestanding restaurants outside of Starwood’s hotels. Culinary Concepts by Jean-Georges has already opened Spice Market in Atlanta, GA and Istanbul, Turkey, with another to open in Doha later this year. 2008 will also see Market restaurants in Los Cabos, Doha and Buckhead, GA as well as a J&G Steakhouse in Scottsdale, AZ. 2009 openings will begin early in the year with Market in Vancouver, and promises J&G Steakhouses in such varied locations as Mexico City, Hawaii and Washington, DC. The goal is to have approximately 50 restaurants in operation over the next several years.
Suarez’s contributions to the New York cultural arena are not limited to his illustrious restaurants. He has actively served on the Board of Directors of the Police Athletic League for more than 20 years. He has also been on the Board of the New York Urban Coalition, acted as President of the Catholic Big Brothers Association, and is a member of the New York State Commission on Human Rights. He maintains a commitment to Harlem’s residential revival, manifest in his investments in the Harlem Horizon condominiums. He is a recipient of the Ellis Island Medal of Honor and was presented with the Outstanding Leadership Award from the Armory High School Sports Foundation. Crain’s New York Business counted him among their 100 Most Influential Business Leaders in 2002 and then again in 2003 as one of their 100 Most Powerful Minority Business Leaders.
Equal parts imagination, professionalism and class, Phil Suarez is a respected member of the dining community and one of its most accomplished leaders.