A New York culinary landmark
Located in Manhattan, the Grand Central Oyster Bar & Restaurant is New York’s most popular seafood restaurant. Thanks to its fabled interior design and always fresh products, it has attracted customers from all over the world for more than a century (since 1913)
With its vaulted, Guastavino-tiled ceiling, the Grand Central Oyster Bar & Restaurant has been a prominent feature of New York City’s culinary scene for over a century, the tint of an era long gone still preserved by its interior design. The restaurant opened together with the Grand Central Terminal in 1913, both remaining immensely popular tourist destinations to date. The architecture of the seafood restaurant, so typical of the time during which it was built, allows its visitors to indulge themselves in a reminiscence of the atmosphere that reigned in New York in the early 20th century. Today, 105 years after it first swung its doors open, the Grand Central Oyster Bar & Restaurant has earned the right to be regarded as a true institution across The City That Never Sleeps.
The restaurant’s Executive Chef, Sandy Ingber, is the epitome of its most recent history. He has been working at Grand Central Oyster Bar & Restaurant for the last 28 years, and has been the chef for the last 20. Plenty of changes have passed before his eyes for nearly three decades, and he is glad to share the recipe for the legendary restaurant’s success.
“I have seen a lot during my time here. There have been four renovations, including the latest, in 2014, when we had a full restoration of our worldfamous ceiling. Together with that, I have seen the refurbishment of the Grand Central Railway terminal itself in 1997. Naturally, I have observed the changes in people’s tastes and desires over the years, too, as well as the comings and goings of celebrities and regulars alike, stopping by at the restaurant,” Sandy opens up.
He notices a shift in the way Americans perceive food today: “I believe we are eating much more healthily today than we did in the past, and people have become slightly more aware of seafood, and have begun to incorporate it into their diets. I am not sure that the same shift has occurred in our English customers. A high percentage of the tourists we welcome are from the UK, but I do not think their tastes have changed that much.”
Grand Central Oyster Bar & Restaurant may be iconic due to its location and traditional design, but there is much more to it, that makes it a world-class place to experience the best of seafood. Sandy insists on the painstaking handpicking of the freshest fish and oysters every single day, to guarantee that the customers’ palates are always treated to the highest standard. “The most important thing for me is that I buy approximately 90 per cent of my oysters directly from the farms. They come out of the water, are put in a box, and then shipped straight to me, which ensures their freshness. I am equally careful when handpicking fish,” he explains.
Sandy’s admirable industriousness sees him start his day off at 3am, when he sets out to the fish markets to select the best products for the day. He believes his own dedication is positively transmitted to the rest of staff, and creates a work environment that produces dishes of the highest calibre. His efforts have sustained the business’ operation, even during the difficult years, following the 2008 market crash. Sandy reports: “It was a time when some other restaurants had to close, but our losses were not too heavy, and since then, we have been growing on a year-to-year basis. Right now, the economy is very strong, which means that people increasingly want to eat out, and they are showing tremendous amount of interest in seafood, so we expect this growth to continue.”
Drawing upon the restaurant’s historical experience, Sandy singles out the oyster stew and pan-roast as the dish that has become synonymous with Grand Central Oyster Bar & Restaurant. “It is one of our most famous dishes, because we still prepare it to its original recipe from 105 years ago, including the steam jacketed kettles. People have been coming for it since they were children, and it is not uncommon that they are bringing their own children now, many years later,” he praises the wondrous tradition that has undoubtedly played a key part of the restaurant’s successful story.
“Our happy hour is also proving to be very popular,” Sandy reckons. “It covers a down time at the restaurant, between 4.30pm and 7pm from Monday to Wednesday, and between 1pm and 5pm on Saturday. It brings people in, and with that, extra revenue. What is especially important, though, is that a word of mouth is also going around about it, which is another positive outcome of the happy hour.”
In 2018, Sandy hopes that the restaurant will reap the fruits of the active advertising it has engaged with recently. “We made a video that is shown regularly on New York’s cable TV channels. We also shot a promotional video for taxi cabs, designed for specific times and areas around Grand Central, so when you get in a cab, the very first thing you see, is Chef Sandy inviting you to the restaurant,” he smiles. “We’ve also been advertising on Yankees and Mets radio broadcasts for a decade, bringing sports followers into our mix. Another exciting novelty for us was getting our own digital screen at Times Square, pointing the way to the restaurant. Also, two digital signage screens in front of the restaurant, that rotate beautiful pictures of food shots and advertising posters.”
It is hardly a surprise, however, that maintaining the highest quality and the freshness of every product remains the number one priority for Sandy: “The customers know that here they can get the freshest seafood in America, maybe even in the world. We have to continue delivering only fresh products, and at the same time, keep an eye on the new food trends in the country, and make the necessary changes to stay in the mainstream,” he concludes.