by Lisa Swan on May 21, 2012
It’s the end of an era. Ben Benson’s Steakhouse, a legendary Manhattan eatery, is going to close next month. The midtown restaurant, famous for its food, its wood-paneled walls, and its celebrity fans, will serve its last filet mignon on June 17, Father’s Day.
The Wall Street Journal reports that the restaurant, named after its owner and serving diners since 1982, is in a squabble with Paramount Group, who owns the building. Paramount has refused to renew their lease. In addition, sales have gone down approximately 25% in recent years, much due to the Great Recession. Also, the collapse of Lehman Brothers in 2008, which had their headquarters in the same building, on 123 West 52nd Street, hurt business as well, as they were big customers.
Benson said he really did not want to close the restaurant, but had no choice. He told Steve Scott of WCBS that he had been negotiating “with a very stubborn landlord for a while now” that would not give them a new lease “unless we pay them a lot more money.” He called the renewal demands “outrageous,” and said: “We just had to say ‘Thank you, but no thank you’ and close our doors.”
Benson, who lost his eyesight in his 20s, but who the Journal says still “skillfully makes his way around the restaurant,” told the staff Wednesday the news that the place was closing. He cried, as did some of the staff.
Ben Benson’s may not have been quite as well-known as Peter Luger’s, but the steakhouse still had some pretty high-end – and loyal clientele. The place was a favorite of Giants players, especially Eli Manning, but New York Jets star Tim Tebow has also dined there. Executives from UBS, CBS, and Morgan Stanley also were regulars.
While the restaurant was known for its steaks, seafood, and extensive wine list, it was also known for its great customer service. Like the bar in “Cheers,” everybody knew your name if you dined at Ben Benson’s. Benson acknowledged that in an interview with the Journal: “As much as the food, it’s the way they’re treated,” he said about the place’s popularity. When customers come in, the staff would greet them by name and ask them if they wanted their regular table, he said.
Yet this may not be the end of Ben Benson’s Steak House for good. He said that he was open to doing a joint venture with somebody else, ironic for someone who once vowed that the place would never become a chain, and ran a New York Times ad saying that there would never be another Ben Benson’s. He also said that such a deal had a 50/50 chance of happening, but that it would be in Midtown, telling the Journal, “I don’t even want to go as far south as 34th Street.” Hey, those of us below Penn Station enjoy steak, too!
Lisa Swan is a Feature Writer for the Compliance Exchange and the Wall Street Job Report. She is also a columnist for The Faster Times and a blogger for Subway Squawkers. Her work has also appeared in the New York Daily News, Yahoo Sports, Huffington Post and the books Graphical Player 2011 and Graphical Player 2010.
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