Tommy Tardie | [SpotOn Restaurant Recovery Series] Pivoting a Fine Dining Restaurant with Gift Boxes, Virtual Classes, and More
Smart Business Revolution

Tommy Tardie is the Owner and Operator of The Flatiron Room and Fine and Rare restaurants in New York City. He opened The Flatiron Room in September 2012 with the goal of creating a restaurant with great food and world-class whiskey all under one roof. He followed that up with the opening of Fine and Rare restaurants in January 2017, which comes with live jazz and rare spirits. 

Tommy has received a number of awards and accolades including “Best Whiskey Bars in America” by Travel and Leisure Magazine, “World’s Best Bars” by get lost Magazine, “Manhattan Hotspot” by OpenTable, and most recently, “Best Bar in America” by Whisky Magazine.

In this episode of the Smart Business Revolution Podcast, John Corcoran interviews Tommy Tardie, the Owner and Operator of The Flatiron Room and Fine and Rare restaurants, about pivoting a fine dining restaurant during a pandemic. They discuss the art of fine dining, the various challenges faced by restaurant owners since the pandemic struck, organizing virtual whiskey testing Zoom calls, and what the future looks like for the industry. Stay tuned.

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Here’s a Glimpse of What You’ll Hear:

  • What inspired Tommy Tardie to start a fine dining establishment and what he learned during the early days of the business
  • How Tommy used his creative background to design the look and feel of his restaurants
  • Tommy’s main reasons for opening The Flatiron Room
  • Tommy recounts his thoughts when the COVID-19 pandemic struck and what he did to continue generating revenue for his restaurants
  • How Tommy created gift boxes and fine dining takeouts — and the lessons he learned from that
  • How having a social media presence and database of customers impacted Tommy’s businesses
  • Tommy talks about the seasonality of the hospitality industry, his display of customers’ bottles in his bars, and the growth of outdoor dining in New York
  • The things Tommy would have done differently for his restaurants two years ago 
  • The people that have supported Tommy in building a successful business
  • Where to learn more and locate The Flatiron Room and Fine and Rare restaurants

Resources Mentioned In This Episode

Sponsor: Rise25

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Episode Transcript

Intro 0:01

Welcome to the Smart Business Revolution Podcast where we ask today’s most successful entrepreneurs to share the tools and strategies they use to build relationships and connections to grow their revenue. Now, your host for the revolution, John Corcoran.

John Corcoran 0:40

All right. Welcome everyone, John Corcoran here, and I am the host of this show. You know, every week we feature top CEOs, founders, and entrepreneurs of companies and organizations ranging from Netflix, YPO, EO, Activision Blizzard, LendingTree, OpenTable, Ace Software, and many more. And this episode is part of our SpotOn restaurant recovery series, we’re spotlighting top leaders in the restaurant industry, restaurant tours, general managers, restaurant owners, those who are doing heroic things to help keep this key area of our economy thriving today. And of course, this series is brought to you by our friends at SpotOn. SpotOn powers small and midsize businesses, especially restaurants with the digital tools they need to run and grow supported by personal service and delivered at a fair price. They’re the leader in fully integrated restaurant management systems and small business technology with end-to-end solutions including marketing, website development, reservations, and much more. You can go to to learn more about them. 

And my guest here today is Tommy Tardie. He’s the Owner and Operator of The Flatiron Room, and Fine and Rare restaurants in New York City. He opened The Flatiron Room in September of 2012, had the goal of creating a restaurant with great food and world class whiskey all under one roof, followed that up with the opening of Fine and Rare restaurant in January 2017, which has live jazz and rare spirits. And he’s received a number of awards and accolades in spite of, you’ll hear in a moment, not a lot of experience in the restaurant game. So they’ll be kind of interested to hear about that. Some of those accolades include Best Whiskey Bars in America by Travel and Leisure Magazine, World’s Best Bars by get lost Magazine, Manhattan Hotspot by OpenTable, and most recently, Best Bar in America by Whisky Magazine, which is quite an accolade. So Tommy, we are excited to have you here today. And I’m excited to dive into your background. First of all, I kind of alluded to this, but you didn’t really have a background as a restaurant tour, right? You’ve worked your way up in journalism, advertising and design and then one day he has decided I’m going to start a fine dining establishment in one of the toughest cities in the world in New York City. So what inspired that to happen?

Tommy Tardie 2:43

First of all, John, thanks for having me. Happy to be here in chat about the industry. And you’re correct. I didn’t have much or much experience in hospitality other than, you know, frequenting a lot of restaurants and hanging out at a lot of bars. But, you know, I think ignorance is bliss. And it’s one of those industries that has a very romantic side to it. You see it and you think how hard can it be? You know, it’s, it’s, you need a chef, you need a bartender, you need a lot of friends. And I thought, yeah, I can do that. wasn’t easy. Anybody that’s in this industry can tell you, it’s, it’s you know, it’s a heck of an industry. And, you know, if you don’t have any experience, like myself, you know, I reinvented the wheel dozens and dozens and dozens of times, because I didn’t know I mean, all the while when I first got into it, I knew. I think every day, I would say there’s got to be an easier way to do this. And there was for someone with experience, but I’ll tell you, if you haven’t got experience, the best way to get experience is to just immerse yourself in it. And, you know, if you’re on your dime, you’re going to quickly learn things. 

John Corcoran 4:05

And then what was it like in the early days? Was it a roller coaster? Was it an overnight success? Did it take a little while for it to take off?

Tommy Tardie 4:16

It took a little while. You know, the first place that opened was in the West Village. It was a place called fuel. Right? It was right in the heart of NYU. And we were I will say we were busy immediately. We weren’t profitable immediately. And that’s you know, that’s a tricky, that’s a tricky thing. And something I also learned pretty quickly is that, you know, revenue doesn’t necessarily mean profit. We had a lot of revenue coming in. We have a lot of customers, but I do not know the business. It took me a while to really understand margins and you know how we could turn it around in Make money. I had a five-year lease. And over the course of five years, we pretty much broke even though we didn’t make a lot of money. But it was enough to keep me in the industry. And I think, you know, a lot of restaurant tours will say this is another reason why you open up a new place is that the next time you’ll get it, right. And that’s, that was me. I did it for five years. And I said, Well, I could go back into advertising. I was a former creative director on Madison Avenue. Or I can open up something else. And that’s, that’s what I did.

John Corcoran 5:39

Yeah. And your restaurants definitely have a distinctive look and feel. How much did you bring that experience from being creative director into the work that you did when you created these restaurants?

Tommy Tardie 5:49

Yeah. You know, I’ll say I’m probably a designer’s worst nightmare, because I have a lot of input. I came from a creative background. So you know, I’m not the passive guy that’s gonna sit and just let them do things. I had a lot of strong opinions. But fortunately, I found a team that was just phenomenal. And they, they got it, they got what I was looking for. And they helped me translate what I was looking for into words, so I could better communicate it. I knew I knew visually what I wanted to do, but I didn’t really, I couldn’t describe it. And when I met with this design team, it just all kind of came together. I wanted a place that I put myself as a demographic, I wanted a place that I would enjoy going to a place where I would be the target audience. And that’s what I did.

John Corcoran 6:51

I have to ask, I have to ask you this. Are you a big whiskey guy?

Tommy Tardie 6:58

I’ve always liked whiskey. Um, I wasn’t really passionate about it. I enjoyed simple spirits. I look at whiskey as kind of a single ingredient cocktail. What I tell people is why do you? Why do you like meat and I’m like, well, it’s dependable and it’s reliable, I can go to any bar in the world. And if I order, you know, a glimmer on G neat, I know exactly what I’m gonna get. Versus you know, relying on a bartender and hoping that they’re gonna make me a great cocktail. So I really liked the simplicity of neat spirits. And that was it. And, you know, truth be told that before I open up The Flatiron Room, I would be partial to finding tequila or having a scowl or a nice whiskey. But it wasn’t until I opened up The Flatiron Room and I started building my collection, that I realized I needed to learn a lot more about whiskey. I mean, if we were going to have this huge selection that I had envisioned, I needed to know it and understand it, I didn’t want to be a poser that just had this, you know, huge right? didn’t do anything about it.

John Corcoran 8:13

And did you then open a restaurant? Because it was something you’re passionate about? Or was it because you felt like there was a hole in the market that needed to be filled? Or was it some combination of the both? 

Tommy Tardie 8:29

Yeah, you know, I opened up The Flatiron Room. Because Truthfully, I love the concept. I love the immediacy of restaurants I love, you know, coming from advertising, you know, you’d run a campaign, and then you’d collect your data and you would get research, you do your research. And then you’d get your data, like many months down the road and to see if it was actually working. But with the restaurant, I mean, it’s so kind of primal, you know, you put something on the menu, and you see immediately if people buy it, and then you see even quicker if they like it, you know, you can just watch the expressions on their face. And I love that I love you know, being able to conceive something, whether it be a food item or a cocktail and just see immediate reactions. And that’s, you know, it’s a beautiful thing. Yeah, so, me opening it up was really about creating a place, I think there was a hole in the market. You know, as I was getting older, I knew I still wanted to go out but I didn’t want to go to crowded bars. I didn’t want to go to a place that you know, you’d spend a ton of money on a cocktail or a DRAM of spirits. And then you would get jostled at the bar door. It was just too loud to talk. But I still wanted to go out and I thought well, you know, maybe I could create a mature minded place that just did something that wasn’t necessary. Thoroughly hipper, or hot or cool, but something that had like a history, a feeling that the longer it’s around, the more patina it has, the better it becomes. I remember thinking like Baltazar was one of these iconic places that it’s just, it was timeless. And that’s really what I set out to create is a place that felt timeless, like when you walked in, you felt like you were just escaping from the, you know, the streets of New York into this kind of transformative experience.