ATLANTIC CITY - The Stephen Starr experiment at the Chelsea Hotel ended abruptly Tuesday after both Starr Restaurants and the Chelsea confirmed Starr's company no longer would be associated with the boutique hotel.
The famed Philadelphia restaurateur's association with the hotel was a big selling point when the Chelsea announced that Starr would oversee food and beverage operations for the hotel's two restaurants - retro cafe Teplitzky's and gourmet steakhouse Chelsea Prime - as well as its pool and room service.
The Chelsea's management team now will oversee all of the hotel's food and beverage operations, and Chelsea Prime and Teplitzky's will remain at the hotel. Chelsea management said the same standards will remain as most of the staff was retained, including Executive Chef Thomas von Muenster and Chelsea Prime Executive Chef Jason Hanin.
"Starr Restaurants have made the Chelsea renowned for excellence in food and beverage," Chelsea developer and co-managing partner Curtis J. Bashaw in a statement. "I thank Stephen Starr for his vision and ongoing personal involvement throughout the first year of operation. I also thank Stephen's entire team for their relentless dedication to excellence and for identifying and training the team that will continue to run our restaurants, bars, catering service and kitchens."
"With the Chelsea set up for success, we are confident in the Chelsea team's ability to manage these venues in keeping with the high standards for which Starr Restaurants is known," Starr said in the same statement. "We look forward to collaborating with Cape Resorts Group, developer and owner of the Chelsea, on future projects."
Starr and Bashaw would not elaborate on their statements.
Starr's departure comes almost exactly a year after the Chelsea and Starr's restaurants made their debut. Featuring 332 guest rooms, a spa and a nightlife hub that includes a rooftop pool, the Chelsea advertises itself as the city's first non-gaming boutique hotel to open since the early 1960s, offering a "sexy" alternative to the casinos.
The restaurants inside the Chelsea received critical acclaim, particularly Chelsea Prime, which received a rare four-star review in The Press of Atlantic City. But the economic downturn and long winter forced Starr and the Chelsea to adapt their hours. Teplitzky's, for example, originally was scheduled to be open seven days per week for breakfast, lunch and dinner. But in the off-season, the restaurant did not offer dinner any day of the week.
Stephen Prakash, a restaurant and hospitality consultant in Hammonton who has worked for China Grill Management and served as vice president of non-gaming operations for Caesars Atlantic City, said losing Starr is an obstacle, but one that can be overcome.
"You have two extremely successful entrepreneurs in Curtis Bashaw and Stephen Starr who put together excellent concepts here," Prakash said. "Unfortunately, they opened the Chelsea and these restaurants at the worst time. The economy is difficult everywhere right now to open anything, whether it's here or Los Angeles or anywhere. And Atlantic City is certainly having its troubles right now. That said, while not having Stephen Starr's cachet is a blow, they can still put out a great product in restaurants that are quite beautiful."
Prakash said there's "no plus" in losing Starr, but he added that if they follow the Starr model, Teplitzky's and Chelsea Prime could be successful.
"Starr's not pulling out the furniture and wall coverings, so they will remain very nice places with cool concepts," Prakash said. "It's also going to be easier for the Chelsea because they don't need a third party to help make decisions. But the key to all of this is for them to secure solid management. If they continue on as Starr would have wanted them to, I think they can survive this and do very well."
The marriage between Atlantic City and Starr, who operates 19 restaurants around the country, has not exactly been a happy one. In April, the restaurateur filed a $20 million lawsuit against The Pier Shops at Caesars, its developers and landlord, claiming he was duped into opening Buddakan and Continental, according to an Associated Press report.
In the suit, filed in U.S. District Court in Philadelphia, Starr is seeking permission to close the restaurants and have his leases rescinded, claiming he had second thoughts about opening the restaurants there because of construction delays and related problems. He said he agreed to go forward with the restaurants after the defendants told him restaurateur Jeffrey Chodorow of China Grill Management, which operates Red Square in The Quarter at the Tropicana Casino and Resort, had a binding lease for a nightclub and restaurant at The Pier, which the suit claims was untrue. Chodorow never opened those venues.
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