Long Island restaurateur George Korten looks for 'upscale neighborhoods with professional people'

George Korten, who launched a series of seven

George Korten, who launched a series of seven restaurants on Long Island and in Maryland, and is about to open his 8th - called Grillfire in Syosset, poses for a portrait at George Martin The Original, one of Korten's reasturants in Rockville Centre on Thursday, July 10, 2014. (Credit: Newsday / Daniel Rader)

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Next month, George Korten plans to reopen his first restaurant, 28 years and eight restaurants later. He first opened Mim's in Syosset at age 29, and now, partnering with Mim's owner, Richard Cutler (whom Korten hired as a busboy decades ago), he's converted it to Grillfire of Syosset. It will be Korten's fourth Grillfire location; he describes the menu as "modern American fare with a steakhouse component."

Korten, 57, says his goal as a restaurateur is to cultivate regular customers by creating a cozy environment similar to the one on the TV show "Cheers." In the aftermath of Sept. 11, 2001, his George Martin -- The Original restaurant in Rockville Centre became a mainstay for grieving families and stunned New Yorkers, he says.

Korten had his first restaurant job at 16, before heading to the School of Hotel Administration at Cornell. His other properties include George Martin's Strip Steak in Great River, GM Burger Bar in Rockville Centre and Vivo Trattoria in Maryland.

What factors do you consider when you choose your locations and menus?

I look at the concept I'm proposing to put into the area, the median income, the population, the psychographic behavior of the people that live in the area, the competition. I'm always looking to fill voids and to build relationships with the community at large, because we're primarily neighborhood restaurants, with the exception of Maryland, which are in a boutique hotel.

What's the most golden demographic for a restaurant?

It really depends on the type of operation. What typically has worked for me has been upscale neighborhoods with professional people.

Are Long Island customers different from those in Manhattan or Maryland?

Here, it's much more community-based, and it's more than just the food: It's the hospitality package. People's frequency on Long Island at restaurants is greater than in Manhattan. There are just so many more restaurants in Manhattan. It's our mission to cultivate as many core regulars as possible.

How often do you think menus should change?

I'm pretty restless. We change 10 to 15 percent of the menu each quarter. We tie it in with current food trends so it's always moving.

What trends are hot now?

Brussels sprouts and kale. Two years ago we really couldn't give it away, and now it's the hottest vegetable on the planet.

What do you look for in hires?

People with the "hospitality gene." If you have that, we can teach you how to be a good server or a bartender, a busboy. But if you don't have that genuine gene to please people and to put a smile on your face -- and not a pretend smile -- then this culture is really not for you. You can have great food, great design, but if you don't have great people to back it up and to execute, it's all a waste of money. The people are what makes everything tick.

CORPORATE SNAPSHOT

NAME: George Korten, president, The George Martin Restaurant Group in Rockville Centre

WHAT IT DOES: Owns and operates eight restaurants

EMPLOYEES: 180 full time, 160 on Long Island; 215 part time, 175 on Long Island

REVENUE: $14 million

CORRECTION. An earlier version of this story had an incorrect revenue figure.

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