Ed Lederman
Profile of Eric Bromberg
Owner of Blue Ribbon Restaurants

By Sarah Zimmerman

Eric Bromberg and his brother Bruce are a very rare breed – successful NYC restaurateurs who now helm a veritable culinary empire (In addition to the original Blue Ribbon Brasserie, the Blue Ribbon empire now includes Blue Ribbon Sushi, Blue Ribbon Bakery, Blue Ribbon Bakery Market, Blue Ribbon Downing Street Bar, Blue Ribbon Sushi Bar & Grill, Blue Ribbon Brooklyn, Blue Ribbon Sushi Brooklyn, Brooklyn Bowl, and opening in December, the Blue Ribbon Sushi Bar and Grill in Las Vegas, their first opening outside of New York City.)
Eric and Bruce built the original Blue Ribbon in 1992 on Sullivan Street with the help of Eric’s wife, seven or eight employees, and the Soho-based architects they’ve used on every project, Asfour Guzy. “It was a heart-and-soul project,” reminisces Eric. “We lived on Van Dam, right around the corner, so the restaurant became our neighborhood and our world.”

Looking back, it is no surprise Eric and Bruce, who grew up in Morristown, NJ, ended up as restaurateurs. Their father, a lawyer, was an impassioned foodie who would think nothing of driving hours to try out a new Chinese restaurant. His father also brought them into SoHo regularly when they were little to show them around local institutions such as Dean and DeLuca. A Francophile, he also took his family on extended summer vacations in France where scouring local markets for unusual ingredients was a treasured part of the routine.

Both Eric and Bruce ended up studying at Le Cordon Bleu in Paris and when they decided to open their own restaurant, they remembered the legendary restaurants their father had taken them to as children, and knew they wanted to create a place where the community and the restaurant would be deeply intertwined.
Eric and Bruce didn’t set out to shatter convention, but they ended up doing so anyway. “We were the first restaurant in SoHo (in 1992) to open from four in the afternoon until four in the morning,” Eric recalls. They were also ahead of the curve in opening Blue Ribbon Sushi a couple of years later. “At the time, there was no sushi place in SoHo,” says Eric. “Originally we had envisioned putting a fish market in the space we leased, but Bruce and I love Japanese culture, and we love sushi. Once we became obsessed with sushi, then we knew what we wanted to do.”

Soho has of course changed dramatically since 1992, although Eric says that very little has changed on Sullivan Street. “It’s still a little village here where everybody knows each other. I know the mailman, I know the guys on the corner, I know the owners of the other restaurants. It’s like I’m in Mayberry,” he laughs.
Most notably, every night Eric walks into Blue Ribbon, he knows at least 50% of his customers on a first-name basis. Many of them have been coming to the restaurant since it opened 18 years ago and some come in four or five nights a week. To what does Eric attribute this loyalty? Aside from offering delicious, original food, Eric believes that the restaurant’s “no reservations” policy has played a decisive role in its longevity. “If you take reservations,” he explains, “people from everywhere can make them, and what happens is that people who live next door ended up getting turned away. Our idea of business, whether the market is up or down, is that your neighborhood is what carries you.”

It is this sense of loyalty to neighborhood customers – and to staff – that has also been key to Blue Ribbon’s success. From the opening team of 14 when Blue Ribbon opened in 1992, 11 of the original employees are still with the company. “We have an incredible team who has made Blue Ribbon their life,” says Eric. “They’re family to us.”

Eric’s own children (he has three, ranging from eight to 12 years old), also regularly spend time in the restaurants, with his youngest even donning his own chef’s coat and helping out a few weeks ago when the Brombergs made brunch at the James Beard house. Clearly, food and hospitality is in the family’s genes (Eric and Bruce have even written a soon-to-be published cookbook, Bromberg Bros Blue Ribbon Cookbook).
Eric’s advice to aspiring restaurateurs is simple. “You need to love what you do. If you would do it for free, then it’s something to embark on and if you wouldn’t, there are easier ways to make a living because it is an extremely demanding business. Every night you’re putting on a show. Every night you have to be at the top of your game. That’s why the failure rate is so high – there is no room for saying, gee, I’m not up for working 18 hours today.”