With Paul, Lenny and Murray kibitzing at the next table about how they met you and who knew you way back to the days of stick ball and Johnny on the Pony, the evening began. We walked into the Fireman Group’s splendid new venture. A beautifully appointed room, a stage setting for what looked like a grand scene from a Coppola movie. A staff of beautiful people appeared to be auditioning for a role in “Cafe Society ” a la Fireman. We marveled at how everything old is new again. The panoply of flowers and leather banquets combined with well shined brass and mirrors helped to create the setting. We comfortably nuzzled into our booth glanced at ourselves in the mirror, smoothed down the cowlick on our bangs and hung our hat.
Everything slowed down, albeit quickly came flooding through in thoughts.
I met Shelly Fireman in 1977. I walked down a few steps into the old Le Drugstore, the new Cafe Tartufo. I had an appointment to interview for a job. I was 27 years old and waiting for my real estate career to take off. I distinctly remember his buttonless denim shirt that flowed over his very cool looking jeans. It completed the picture in my mind of a well dressed beatnik. I was impressed. I thought ok Village Voice and Allen Ginsberg move over, I got this gig down. And so I was hired as his “assistant . Little did I know this meant wearing lots of (hold on to your hats) and learning a whole new set of “Peas and Q’s, I love food and the environment in which it is created. Still do, always will. So I bought a new pair of jeans and realized this was not a sit behind a desk as an assistant, just anywhere job.
I learned a lot about the hospitality business, in the “back of the store” way. The people I got to meet were foodies in every sense of the word. They cooked it, wrote about and designed the hardware to display the food. This is actually where the taste buds begin.
Shelly gave me a taste tester allowance as part of my job. I would go to other food shops and eat my way to a worthwhile review to present to him the next day. I also got to know the staff of sales people at the men’s dept. at Bonwit Tellers, very well. This was his go to store for even the simplest of cravats. If there is such a thing. Shelly’s creativity transcends to so much more than how to present a great bowl of pasta or who to hire to whip up the anchovy sauce for the mozzarella en carroza. Fritto misto –
let’s try it with carrots. Ok, he would say, now add less sauce. As sybaritic pleasures go, great food and how it dances off the plate is way up there.
Fast forward 40 and I’m still holding on to my hat years later. I am still eating in his stores. Our friendship still real and long lived. Without a doubt his bride for the better part of his ride – Marilyn Fireman has held his attention, respect, devotion and love. She is his greatest success, his longest lasting pleasure and the prototype for the cherry on top of the Tartufo. Without her his tale would not have unfolded as the success story it is.
She is beautiful, talented and saint like in her patience. Brava Marilyn.
On Sept 7, 2001, Ira and I stood under the Chuppah on the
roof top of his 57th street restaurant, appropriately titled Shelly’s.
So a part of me feels possessive, as old friends often do. Not in like a claiming ownership way, but more of a I was there as the under belly of this empire was in its empirical stage. And ” you’ve come a long way baby.”
So my dear friend, with every morsel of good wishes shared, every memory of Gael Greene’s reviewing Fiorellos greatest pizza pie, (like her hats were ever a disguise)- every take- out order I brought out to Bill Berkeley to bring home to Marge and my thoughts will it make it home, every time you told me what a bad typist I was ( hello Apple where were you in the 70’s, I say Mangiare e Bene. Simchas biz hundert tzvanzig.