In the current state of the restaurant industry in New York City, “everything has to be an experience and a story, having good food and good drinks and good service, it’s almost not enough,” said Patrick Schmidt, executive director of Hell’s Kitchen Hospitality Group. “You always have to be critically looking at your concept and making sure that you’re putting out what the people want in that moment.”
The New Jersey native moved to Hell’s Kitchen upon graduation from high school and attended The New York Restaurant School, where he earned an associate degree in culinary management. In 2011, he joined Hell’s Kitchen Hospitality Group, named after the neighborhood where most of its restaurants are located, and the first venture he helped open was New York Beer Company, which shuttered due to the pandemic. While that venue focused on craft beer, Schmidt said the company has pivoted to being more cocktail focused. “And the reason why is there’s just so much more you can do to tell a story,” he explained. “We can change the glassware, the garnish, use fun colors, we get to name the drink.”
Since COVID, the organization has impressively launched four restaurants. Last year, they opened Dolly Varden on West 51st, and William & Willow in Astoria, the latter unfortunately closed in August. And last month, they debuted Lady Blue, a cocktail bar on West 46th and the ‘70s-themed eatery Peachy Keen on West 44th in June.
Peachy Keen is already a favorite amongst local residents who come in to celebrate the decade wearing bellbottoms and wigs, and tourists in town for events like the Harry Styles concert at Madison Square Garden, who all want to be “transported back to the ‘70s when you walk in the door.”
What does your role as executive director entail and what does a typical day look like for you?
Every day is a little different, that’s part of the thrill of it. In this industry, we wear a lot of hats and you develop a lot of different skills, running all these restaurants and interacting with the hundreds of people, if not thousands, that you come across during your career. But now, my current role is basically the director of the executive team. When I started out, we opened the New York Beer Company in 2012, so I joined the team in 2011. We’ve grown quite a bit during this whole period that I’ve been with the company, so now we have a team of executives. We have 25 to 30 onsite venue managers. I kind of oversee them doing their job, assisting them, training them, being a support system for them if things come up they haven’t seen because having done every position and having been with the company for so long, I just inherently have a lot of answers to the questions.
And then, on top of that, I am a liaison between the ownership group and those teams. So really my day to day, it could be in multiple locations, it could be in the office, it could be spent in front of a computer hosting Zoom meetings. But I do keep my finger on the pulse of the entire company, whether it be personnel, financial, and definitely the concept creation is something that I really enjoy and that I think always needs to be at the forefront of your mind because New York is such a competitive market.
How did the concept come about for Peachy Keen?
It’s always a process. Sometimes we start out with an idea, and then the final execution, or even post launch, what it ends up becoming is not always exactly the way you drew it up. We have another concept in the company that has two locations. It’s called Mom’s Kitchen & Bar. It’s brunch all day, modern diner, but with a nostalgic twist. The perspective there is very much late ‘80s, early ‘90s. But I think the core of why Mom’s is successful is that it’s very fun. We’ve had a ton of success with it pre- and post-pandemic. And when we sat down at the drawing table to conceptualize what the space that Peachy Keen was going to become, that was kind of the core, fun, loud, bright, colorful. We came to the point where we really felt the period piece was working for us. We started looking into the inspirational aspects of a decade and an era like the ‘70s. There was just so much inspiration there from colorful drinks and cocktails and disco balls and obviously the music is just infectious. It’s really hard to have ‘70s music playing in your earbuds all day and not just inherently be in a good and fun mood.
How did you come up with menu and what have been your bestsellers so far?
From 2010 up until maybe 2020, we were really craft beer focused. Craft beer kind of exploded in New York and we rode that wave successfully for a lot of years. But over the last several, we really pivoted to be focusing more on cocktails. Whether it’s a Bud Lite or a really cool Triple IPA using some exotic hop, at the end of the day, they all kind of look the same in the glass. So that’s been a really big emphasis shift for us as a company and it’s been hugely successful. And the ‘70s was a big party era ... so we tried to take classic cocktails from that era like the Grasshopper, the Harvey Wallbanger, the Pink Lady, and give it our own twist. As far as some of the top sellers, I’d say the Disco Sally is a big one for us. It’s a rum punch that comes in a light-up disco ball. Another one of our top sellers is the Trippie Hippie, which is a gin and lavender cocktail that comes in a little mushroom glass.
On the food side, we didn’t find a lot of the classic recipes of the ‘70s too inspiring, things like shrimp Jell-O salad. What we did with the culinary program is we went a little Southern inspired and more of a nostalgic homestyle vibe, so think comfort food, large portions, familiar flavors. Obviously chicken and waffle is just a huge seller in the industry now, also we have a chicken and dumplings dish for dinner that is really unique. It’s super tasty, but it’s something you’re not used to seeing, but then when you see it, it makes you feel like home. Shrimp and grits. A classic New York staple is just a heaping Reuben sandwich, which I love. I eat that a lot, probably more than I should, to be honest.
What is the demographic of your customers there?
Because of where we’re located, we’re very approachable. There’s so many different revenue streams in that neighborhood, so what we’ve always tried to do operating in Hell’s Kitchen is, service the neighborhood first. Once you get over that tipping point, your reviews online, engagement on social media, then the other side of Times Square, they’ll come. I lived in Hell’s Kitchen for years, and we have a lot of regulars and neighbors who not only support us, but they kind of helped us survive during the challenges of the pandemic. We’ve definitely seen an increase in tourism, Broadway show goers, out-of-towners. But I think the core of our demographic is still your neighbors and community.