Vice president, Executive Services
New York City
Hometown: Charleston, S.C.
Education: Business degree, College of Charleston
First full-time job: With Moveable Feast, a catering firm in Charleston
Married. Wife, Wendy; daughter, Emily, 11; son, Gregory, 8.
In a world as frenetic as the foodservice industry is, savvy operators know that if you don’t have a way to unwind you quickly can burn out. Some people blow off steam in the gym, but George Daniels prefers to head to his garage in South Salem, N.Y., and refinish a table. For 18 years the vice president of corporate dining and conference services for Citigroup in New York City has been building and refinishing furniture—including many pieces that have been passed down through generations of the Daniels family.
“I was raised in Charleston, S.C., where I grew up around a lot of furniture and antiques, and I had always liked furniture. When I became more involved in the food business, I realized that I needed an outlet that didn’t talk back to me. I love the foodservice business; it’s my passion. But I wanted an outlet that was totally opposite to the pace of foodservice but that was still creative.
Building and refinishing furniture takes a lot of patience and time, and you need that in this business as well. Restoration is a slow, methodical process. It can’t be done in a hurry or the end product won’t turn out right. This world is fast-paced and getting faster all the time. This helps slow me down, gives me time to smell the roses.
And my kids like to sit with me and watch while I do it.
We have a 2-1/2-car garage. My wife has her side, and my side is the antique furniture workshop. I’ve rebuilt the area and insulated it. It works very well. I make and refinish my own furniture, and I also go to other people’s homes and fix nicks in their furniture, polish the furniture or do other repairs. It gives me my ‘mad’ money. I also help people buy and sell furniture.
My workshop has four different kinds of sanders, a table saw, a router, a compound miter saw, a lot of different stains and veneers, a number of small tools, a lot of glue and a lot of patience. I like working with older furniture because it has run the test of time and survived. It’s much better built than today’s furniture. I have a lot of furniture that has been passed down to me by my family, and I want to be able to pass it down to my kids. Family is very important to me, and this is their heritage.
I gave my wife a rocking chair when she was pregnant with our daughter, Emily. It looked like it had come from the junk pile. It was a dirty white, just ugly paint, but it had good lines. It was hand-carved solid oak. It took me three months to restore it. I had to strip it, and I used dental tools because the work was so delicate. Now we just love that rocking chair.
I have a lot of very old furniture in my house; most of the furniture we have is more than 30 years old. We have a couple of tables that are 150 years old, and another that is 130 years old. I inherited my grandmother’s bedroom set, which is solid mahogany. I took my grandfather’s four-piece bedroom set, which had been given to him as a wedding present. I stripped it and restored it, and now my daughter uses it.”