LeRoy Is Back In The BizMarch 5, 2013 By: Steve Lewis
At the young age of 22 Jennifer Oz Leroy was passed the torch – and a pretty big one. Warner Leroy her famous father passed suddenly leaving Jennifer in charge of Tavern on the Green and the Russian Tea Room.
Tavern was perennially New York and the nation’s highest grossing venue for 30 years. It employed over 500 people and attracted over 600,000 guests to its 26,000 square feet. In 1973 Warner Leroy invested 10 million dollars and took three years to build the legendary Tavern on the Green. Ten million in 1970's is the equivalent of over 50 million today. It was called a restaurant but its catering business was unparalleled and summer evenings attracted the best; long after the dining was done. The Russian Tea Room also left to young Jennifer grossed $16 million a year and employed 300 people.
To understand Jennifer’s drive you first need to understand her legacy. Her great grandfather, Harry Warner along with his brothers founded Warner Brothers. Her grandfather, Mervyn Leroy, was head of production at MGM he made the decision to make The Wizard of Oz among other impressive films.
Jennifer’s dad Warner LeRoy decided to bring his show biz roots to restaurants with Maxwell’s Plum. Open for 22 years, it was a restaurant where celebrities and the beautiful could always be seen. The design was inspirational. Everywhere you looked was lavish or whimsical objects to look at.
Now Jennifer is ready to continue her own legacy in the hospitality industry. She will rebrand. She will redefine herself and her business becoming a force to be reckoned with once again. Everything she does is with passion. In addition to her new business endeavors, she is on the committee and vigorously motivating people to attend and contribute to an event that benefits the Unicorn Children's Foundation. The Buddha Ball will be held March 16th at The Grand Ballroom of Mar-a-Lago.
Nightclub & Bar has to pleasure to speak with her about her past and her future.
Nightclub & Bar (NCB): Can you tell us about the event and the Unicorn Children’s Foundation.
Jennifer Oz Leroy: My dear friend Max Tucci asked me to join the committee which I absolutely said yes. I have seen how much time and hard work he has put into this charity and was delighted to join the committee. Max and I have a lot in common. His family was the famous Delmonico restaurant in New York! Unicorn Children's Foundation is an international non-profit organization dedicated to children and young adults with developmental, communication, and learning disorders through education, awareness, and research so that they have every opportunity to lead productive and fulfilling lives. In places like New York and Palm Beach, there are so many wonderful charities that you really need to do something to stand out in order to capture your guests’ attention. The Buddha Ball is certain to do just that! I am especially excited about ELEW preforming. He is such an incredible performer. I guarantee you have never seen anything like this and I have been lucky enough to see many of the world’s most talented musicians. ELEW is a true showman-much like Warner LeRoy was!
NCB: At a very young age you were thrust into the world of hospitality when your wonderful dad Warner LeRoy passed. You were tasked to run both Tavern on the Green and the Russian Tea Room. Tell me about the learning experience.
Oz Leroy: Well, I would say I have a master degree is restaurant management. I was 22 with just under 1000 employees and unfortunately millions of dollars owed on my father latest project The Russian Tea Room. He had spent over five years and $30 million plus on the project. I grew up in the kitchen at Tavern-which is where I fell in love with the chaos and 'action' of a restaurant. I just got it, it made sense to me, but I learned then you must work as a team. It was like we were all rowing a giant boat across the Atlantic and if we didn't work together we were going to sink. I use that analogy to this day with many young restaurateurs that I mentor and consult with.
NCB: You told me you started with and loved the "back of the house" part of the business. Tell us about your approach to management.
Oz Leroy: When I was handed the business the operations part was a smooth transition because I knew the ins and outs of both restaurants. I had worked constantly in both properties. I had to prove early on in the kitchen that I meant business. I was one of the first in the building and never left until the evening was complete-which sometimes meant 5 or 6am. I remember the VMA after party I was at the restaurant for 26 hours straight. I was there to set up around 12 noon and didn't get home until after 2pm the following day. But what a great event we had! I do have a different approach on management then my father-my education of the restaurant business was completely different from his. But I believe that is why he pushed me to start working in the business at a young age - to learn it from the ground up.
NCB: The buzz is you are getting ready to re-enter the game. I know you can't talk about it too much and we will revisit but I’d like to know about your mindset for taking on a new project. Have you changed and what about the business has changed?
Oz Leroy: Yes, I am working on something big and in true LeRoy fashion. I am taking this opportunity to start over, continue the LeRoy legacy and thus a new company named LeRoy Redux. We use to be LeRoy Adventures (named for when my father was creating Great Adventure the theme park). He would say "Today we will have a Great Adventure.” But the industry has changed and grown is so many terrific and challenging ways, which is why I am studying it constantly. I will however take the biggest key to the business from something I absolutely learned from Tavern on the Green - know your customers and hit every market. Tavern on the Green was known for its lavished events but that was only a part of what made it a giant financial success.
In my new operation I looked for a place that I could attract several markets which you must do in order to survive decades in New York City. I am also growing with the industry and researching subjects such as growing your own products and expanding in that market. I can only give you one hint and it’s that ‘there is no place like home!’
LeRoy Redux also offers consulting for both new and existing restaurants. I do this because I think this is one of the best and toughest industries. We should be constantly growing and learning what our customers need and want. It is our job to make your experience the best it can be.
NCB: What are you going to be when you grow up or did you do that when you took over?
Oz Leroy: HAHA. I hope to have seen as much ‘action’ in the biz as you Mr. Lewis, if that is even possible! The truth is as sad as it is Warner LeRoy place is no longer under our care, I feel lucky to have the opportunity to start fresh but I have always just wanted to be a great boss, a leader, to be creative, a ‘cook’ as my mom would say and a great horse woman.
NCB: Tell me about the horses and the passion for everything you do?
Oz Leroy: The love for horses is like an obsession - horse people will tell you that. It is something I cannot explain but I often compare it to musicians and their love and passion for music. Since I was four years old and went with my mother to pick up my big sister Carolyn from her horseback riding lesson I was struck with the love for horses. I learned my very first work ethic form being at the barn. I didn’t grow up going to a fantasy barn in the Hamptons. I grew up at Pheasant Run, a barn that had a train track running alongside it. I am so grateful and would spend as much time at the barn as I could. I learned to put the horses care before yours. On hot days my trainer, Cookie, would say, “Your horses get water before you get water.” I would clean stalls, clean tack, clean the office, water, hay, and feed the horses anything they needed and I loved it - I still do! If I am not in the city you can find me in the barn at Oz Farm! The lesson I learned early on was your horse didn't care what school you went to or who your family was, they just wanted you be care for them and be kind and gentle.