By John Cirillo
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Selecting the winner of the Kentucky Derby, featuring a chaotic 20-horse field and the finest three-year-old thoroughbreds in the world, is never an easy task. But for the Grand Central Oyster Bar’s executive chef Sandy Ingber, this year’s pick is an easy one, and that would be Brody’s Cause.
That’s because iconic restauranteur Jerome Brody resuscitated the Oyster Bar when it was failing in the early seventies, returning the world famous seafood eatery to the elite status that it holds today. And that’s not to mention that Mr. Brody hired Ingber some 25 years ago.
Ironically, Mr. Brody was also a leading thoroughbred breeder, though Brody’s Cause was not bred by Gallagher’s Stud, which his wife Marlene now operates in upstate Ghent, New York.
Brody’s Cause is a Kentucky-bred son of Giant’s Causeway trained by trained by Dale Romans and ridden by Luis Saez. The colt is three-for-six lifetime, is coming into the race off a rousing win in the mile and 1/8th Bluegrass Stakes, and fits the Derby profile as a come-from-behind closer.
Ingber’s top two in the Derby are Brody’s Cause and undefeated favorite and juvenile champ Nyquist. His wager: Brody’s Cause, #19 to win and place, and a 19-13 exacta box.
Here is Mr. Brody’s obituary which appeared in the New York Times upon his passing in 2001, and the link to an eater.com article on the Oyster Bar’s history:
Jerome Brody, who transformed the restaurant culture of New York as operator of a series of glittering restaurants like the Four Seasons, the Rainbow Room, Gallagher’s Steak House and the Oyster Bar in Grand Central Terminal, died on Tuesday at his home in Miami. He was 78.
He died of lung disease, said Bryan Reidy, manager of Gallagher’s.
Mimi Sheraton, a former restaurant critic for The New York Times, said that Mr. Brody, working with Joseph H. Baum, ”introduced for the first time, in a classy way, the theme restaurant.”
For example, at their Rockefeller Center restaurant The Forum of the Twelve Caesars, Champagne was chilled in containers resembling the helmets of Roman centurions, and a featured dish was Wild Boar Marinated and Served on the Flaming Short Sword.
As Mr. Brody explained to Fortune magazine in 1960, ”We are New York guys and we have tried to express in all our restaurants the idea of the elegant, perhaps you might say the shiny side of contemporary New York.”
The restaurants, all owned by Restaurant Associates, of which Mr. Brody was president, became the stage for great human dramas, not least when President John F. Kennedy arrived at the Four Seasons in 1963 in an open convertible with no police escort. When Mr. Brody asked if he wanted to visit the kitchen, the president immediately agreed, saying, ”That’s where all the Democrats are.”
Later that year, after Mr. Brody and his first wife, Grace, divorced, his father-in-law fired him from Restaurant Associates, which he controlled. On his own, he took over the management of the Rainbow Room in 1964, when it was no longer a glittering mecca, and immediately sprinkled his own magic on the Art Deco nest at the top of 30 Rockefeller Plaza.
In March 1964, two months after he took over, the room had its first major party in years, the opening-night celebration for ”Funny Girl.” The New York Times reported, ”With Barbra Streisand’s tumultuous entrance, which resembled the climax of a Busby Berkeley musical, the Rainbow Room swiftly returned to the New York cafe society scene.”
Soon, Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton were fox-trotting in the Rainbow Room, and Caroline Kennedy stopped by with her aunt, then Princess Stanislas Radziwill, for tea and French pastries. In 1967, Mr. Brody persuaded Duke Ellington to play an engagement with just seven members of his band, the first time he had played in New York with such a small group in four decades.
Mr. Brody’s empire started with a handful of cafeterias and coffee shops, and almost no financial backing. He built his success mainly on one idea: having someone else pay for the space.
According to Lawrence S. Freundlich in ”A Time Well Spent” (Welcome Rain Publishers, 2000), he identified landlords in need of strong restaurants with sound management plans. The landlords contributed retail space and capital for construction and equipment in return for a percentage of gross income and the prestige a popular restaurant can bring to a building.
”Thus, with little working capital, Brody was eventually able to place Restaurant Associates in first-rate locations, create a presence in the restaurant world out of all proportion to the company’s wealth, and give it a clout, which considering its humble origins was all the more remarkable,” Mr. Freundlich wrote.
Ira Jerome Brody was born in Manhattan on Oct. 17, 1922. His father, Jacob, made a fortune in the hat business and sold his company before the stock market crashed, but then lost nearly everything in real estate. He started another successful hat company.
Young Jerome attended the Ethical Culture School, where he told the headmaster that he aspired to be a millionaire. He attended Dartmouth College; during his sophomore year, he married Grace Wechsler and joined the Army Air Force.
”The movies were filled with stories of people who went off to war and got killed, so they got married first,” he told Mr. Freundlich.
He served on the home front, teaching pilots to fly B-24’s.
Rather than return to Dartmouth, he decided to go directly to Columbia Law School. But his father-in-law, Abraham F. Wechsler, stopped in after three top executives of his coffee business died in succession.
”You can’t go to law school, you have to come down and join me in my coffee business,” he said. Mr. Brody obeyed.
The young man was put in charge of Riker’s, a chain of lunch counters and cafeterias the coffee company had acquired. He quickly upgraded menus. ”Riker’s Corner House at 57th Street must have been the first hamburger joint in the United States to offer beef in burgundy wine sauce,” Fortune reported.
He also began to improve appearances and was delighted to find that a redecorated coffee shop far outsold those that had been left alone.
But Riker’s lacked sufficient capital to refurbish the chain in a systematic way. In the first step of Mr. Brody’s strategy to find someone else to foot the bill for rent and other expenses, he began to seek concessions for his company to run. The first was the food concession at Mitchell Air Force Base on Long Island; the second was the employee’s cafeteria of Ohrbach’s department store in Manhattan.