Matt Prince was 19 when he opened his first bar at Hofstra University.
The Long Island lounge called Bogart’s became so popular that the hospitality maverick opened a second and third location before selling them in a succession of sweet deals, the last about 10 years ago.
The idea at the time, back in 2007, was to pursue a new lounge venture with former NY Jets wide receiver Wayne Chrebet, and retire from the hospitality grind to raise his three sons.
But the call of the industry, and inspiration taken from the lyrics of Billy Joel song Vienna, changed his plans.
Last month, after a 10-year hiatus from the restaurant world, Matt Prince threw open the doors to Vienna of Roslyn, N.Y. A place of modern beauty, with white leather furniture backlit by colored lights, Vienna is a three-level establishment occupying the landmark Chalet building in downtown Roslyn.
“Every place I’ve built has been a multimillion dollar success,” says Prince, 43. “I’ve had offers to start something in Vegas, in LA, NY and Miami. But I always said no because I wanted to raise my kids. Now that they’re older, they said, ‘Dad, why don’t you go back to doing what you love?’ So, when an investor presented me with the idea to create a great lounge in Roslyn, I took it.”
Prince offers insights in this week’s Q&A with Recipe for Success @ Boxerbrand.
Q: How did Billy Joel’s song Vienna inspire you?
When the space opened up, I knew immediately I wanted to do something after Billy. I’ve been a fan my whole life, and to 22 of his concerts. I chose the song Vienna, because of what it means to me. The song reflects how life can be so difficult, and there are tough times with children and with jobs, but at some point, people need to relax and enjoy themselves.
In the 1990s, Billy Joel explained how he came up with the song Vienna. He basically said that older people in Europe are looked up to, but that in America, they’re swept under the rug. What he said that was so powerful to me was that Vienna was a reference to getting older, and to embracing it. He said we’ll all get to Vienna one day, so let’s live our lives.
I just wanted to tip my hat to Billy Joel with this place, since he’s from Long Island. And there should be a place here that pays homage to him.
Q: Those who know you from Bogart’s will find a different concept in Vienna.
First of all, all three Bogart’s were different. The first was so successful at Hofstra it was named the number one bar on Long Island. Five years into it, I opened my second Bogart’s on Long Beach. I sold it three years later for a big profit, and took that money and invested it into creation of a Bogart’s in New York City. We had a place on 39th and Park, in the middle of Murray Hill, across from The W Hotel. I eventually sold all three, and went into partnership with Wayne Chrebet of the NY Jets, helping to start his lounge, before I got out of the industry.
Vienna is totally different. It’s a great lounge and venue for corporate and special events, which also happens to have great food. We’re built to host about 200 people and cater to holiday and family parties.
Q: How are you approaching your menu?
We wanted to go for something in between large entrees and tapas, which is too small. I hired a great chef, and we took our time creating a menu that isn’t too big, but offers enough of a selection to satisfy everyone. We also retained a few items from the restaurant that occupied the space for 50 years before us. Since I stripped away the name of the former restaurant, I wanted to retain some of their great food. Frank, who was very successful as a chef on the South Shore, told me what sold like wildfire at his old place. And we carefully planned a menu of about 20 items.
Q: You opened Oct. 5. How did you attract customers?
Most of the North Shore knows me. I have 2,700 true friends who I keep in touch with on Facebook, and when I announced the Grand Opening, had over 500 comments. I got the message out through word of mouth, but also on social media.
Q: Are you busy?
The last two Fridays and Saturdays you can’t get a table! I’ve been so busy with new business and trying to plan for events, it’s incredible. We have small parties of 15-25 and then we’re planning for reunions and events with 175 or more at a time.
The place is beautiful. I’m so happy with it.
Q: To what do you attribute all your success?
I can say I’ve been successful because I’ve stuck to my guns, my vision. But at the same time, I’ve respected other opinions … I always hired the best of the best, especially in areas where I knew I was weaker. This helped me have a strong company, even if there was some aspect that wasn’t my strong suit. My staff has always been key to me. They are an extension of my thoughts and feelings, and I need them to carry out my vision. — Vienna uses Boxerbrand menu covers in its table presentation. Thank you!