What a shame that Frederick Law Olmsted, the 19th century master landscape architect of Central Park, can’t experience the thrill of viewing a portion of his work from the vantage point of the Park Café, one of Restaurant Associates Managed Services’ newest accounts in New York. The Park Café, located on the 10th floor of the South Tower of the Time Warner Center at Columbus Circle, offers an unparalleled 270-degree view of the park through the windows of its raised-platform seating area.
And what a shame that the location isn’t open to the public. If you’re not one of the approximately 1,750 employees of Time Warner based in the building, you not only miss out on the view—not to mention the majestic interior servery and dining space that soars a full two stories—you also don’t get to sample the bill of fare created by French Culinary Institute-trained executive chef David Cappadona and his staff. But take heart—although the view is one-of-a-kind, all the rest of the goings-on can serve as inspiration.
A showcase jewel: The Time Warner Center is the new home of the media conglomerate formerly known as AOL Time Warner (holdings include America Online, CNN, HBO, Warner Brothers Entertainment, Time magazine, Sports Illustrated and the Emmy Awards). Since its opening in early March 2004, the location has been one of the “preferred stops” when Charles LaMonica, RA’s senior vice president of operations, tours prospective clients around the Big Apple.
“It’s one of our showcase operations,” he’s proud to point out. “We worked with designer Henry Grosbard who we’d worked with recently to create The Lipstick Café, a new Revlon location at Lexington Avenue and 46th Street.” The Park Café is open from 7:30 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. for breakfast (serving about 30% of the building population), and again from 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. for lunch (serving about 60% of the population). Meanwhile, the Coffee Bar is open from 7 a.m. until 4 p.m. Both are adjacent to the kitchen; there are also about 40 coffee pantries throughout the building, plus RA handles office and special event catering.
Tea time: The Coffee Bar—with baristas in attendance—boasts a specially designed pastry case displaying pastries, individually portioned pies, cakes and tarts. The beverage menu includes cappuccinos, espressos, lattes and regular drip coffee, but it’s the high quality loose-leaf teas and tisanes that are generating a real stir, prompting LaMonica to become quite the tea aficionado.
“Tea is an extraction of camellia sinensis while tisanes are extractions of other plants such as lavender, chamomile, etc.—herbal teas, in other words,” he explains. “Upon order, a barista portions loose tea into a tea filter bag, then pours it into a paper cup. Organic teas are very popular here, and we find tea, in general, is going through a significant growth in interest and demand, primarily owing to its health benefits.”
Without cannibalizing café sales, the Coffee Bar is busiest mid- to late- morning and mid-afternoon. Pastries are a popular sale, but for those looking for a more nutritious snack, fresh fruit smoothies and yogurt parfaits made-to-order with fresh fruit, as well as a selection of hand fruit are available. The Coffee Bar generates about $500 daily with a check average of $2.50 on 150 or so covers (about 10% of the building population).
“We want to create the habit for breakfast and encourage the frequency of visits, therefore we have loyalty cards in place for coffee—receive a free cup after four purchases—plus we’re driving add-on sales with bagels and pastries,” LaMonica says.
Inside the Park Café, the two-story high ceilings, the spectacular view, plus the visual impact of volcanic stone—a grayish-black stone that, along with glass and stainless steel, is the predominant finish throughout the servery—could vie with the food for star billing.
At center stage in the servery is a distinctive salad and antipasto bar with volcanic stone also serving as a cold plate for desserts with a refrigeration unit underneath and out of sight. Other stations include:
Tracking health: Throughout the servery, customers in search of healthy fats, lean protein, low carbs, high fiber or high calcium will find color-coded signage providing an easy “road map” to follow. It’s all part of Right Picks, RA’s wellness marketing program offering healthier options, although the location “still serves a lot of burgers and fries,” LaMonica admits.
Some customers, however, make their choice at the door, stopped in their tracks by Cappadona’s Chef Table creations. “Every day our chef offers a restaurant-quality dish he prepares at the entrance of the servery,” LaMonica notes. “It’s a slightly higher price point but it’s of higher quality with restaurant-style presentation. It might be a rack of lamb au jus with Israeli couscous and wild mushrooms; or seared wild striped bass with citrus vinaigrette and baby bok choy. These entrees are priced from $8.95 to $10.95 and we’ll sell about 70 to 100 portions from this table daily.”
Once a week, made-to-order sushi is the Chef’s Table feature. Although sushi is available daily from the Quick Pick grab-and-go area, when it’s made to order, customers can savor the nuance of warm rice and cold fish. The price points and number of sales are identical to other Chef’s Table offerings. Then, just to add yet a bit more interest to the menu, Food Festivals are held each month with a changing focus on seasonal foods. For example, cranberry-based recipes were featured during November, winter squash in December, and a Citrus Festival is in full swing this month.
40% from catering: Catering, for Time Warner-related events only, is a substantial part of RA business here, with “significant special events catering for anywhere from a few dozen people to more than 200 guests three or four times a week. In fact, about 40% of revenues are from catering,” LaMonica confides.
“Partly, it’s because of the spectacular view, but it’s also because of the consistency and quality of execution of our food. Our events here are supported by Catering by Restaurant Associates, the catering group under Restaurant Associates Managed Services that handles high-end special events catering throughout the city.
They’re part of our support structure, and it’s seamless to the guest. But our regular staff of 37—including foodservice director Julie Sajda and other management personnel, as well as the two coffee bar baristas—are cross-trained to handle office catering and evening receptions.”
From the outset, the goal at Time Warner has been to break even, and LaMonica notes that RA “is meeting that goal.” Being a 100% cashless environment—as are six or seven other RA locations—tends to improve the bottom line. In any event, La Monica adds, “it speeds throughput at registers, so operationally it’s more efficient.”