In the winter of 2018, Kevin and Sofia Flannery first met at a Manhattan steakhouse and could have never imagined then that less than five years later, they would open one of their own.
Kevin, an Ohio native, and Sofia, who hails from Calgary, Canada, worked on the concept, which puts a modern spin on the classical steakhouse experience, and opened Vinyl Steakhouse on May 13 on West 19th Street.
The Flatiron eatery got its name from the unique fact that it has over 2,000 vinyl records which provide its soundtrack. And on August 12, the couple celebrated National Vinyl Day by allowing guests to pick the music. “We put it in a wine list format, so a bottle of Caymus 2017 vintage, it’s like an album of Led Zeppelin, 1976 vintage,” Kevin explained.
As for bestselling items, their porterhouse for two, which is dry-aged by a fourth-generation meat purveyor in a cedar-lined room with Himalayan sea salt, takes first place. Runners up include crispy sushi topped with spicy tuna, creamed spinach carbonara, bone marrow corn and a crab cake with parsley and fennel salad. Their most popular cocktail is the old fashioned, for which they traveled to Miami to get inspiration, and use Havana cigar barrel-aged bitters to give it a smoky flavor.
The partners in life and business, who live on the Upper West Side, agree that there are mostly pros when it comes to working with your spouse. “I think it really just bonds you and keeps you close, gives you something to talk about at the dinner table later that night,” Sofia said. And it is a true family affair for the Flannerys – with Kevin’s nine-year-old son pitching in and currently pushing his dad and stepmom to add a kids’ menu to their offerings.
Tell us about your backgrounds in the restaurant industry.
Kevin: When I was 16, my dad needed us all to get a job; we were from a big blue-collar family in Ohio. So he ran me around to some restaurants to knock on the door. And Damon’s BBQ, which has since, I think, closed. I started as a dishwasher there and then they brought me up to a host. When I went to Ohio State University, that’s where I really got into fine dining at a pretty young age. I think I was 20 when I started with Morton’s Steakhouse and worked for them for 12 years. At the time, they were a small, boutique craft steakhouse that I learned a lot from. I got all the way up to general manager with them and became a certified sommelier through them. I worked as the general manager of the 52nd Street Ocean Prime for six years before the becoming the regional director for the entire East Coast for about a year before I started my concept.
Sofia: I grew up around it my whole life. I’m Greek and so my dad and grandfather and every uncle and cat and dog owned a restaurant growing up. So I was around it always and my first jobs were cleaning tables in the restaurants. I actually started working in the hair salon industry as I started pursuing a career. But I was ready for a pivot in my life when all of this started coming up for us and did start having a newfound interest in learning about wine as well and becoming a sommelier. It felt very right and organic to do this together.
How did the record idea come about and where did you get them all from?
Kevin: The biggest portion of them is 1960s to ‘70s rock and roll. But we have disco, funk, hip hop, R & B, jazz, even classical music. We even have alternative rock from the ‘90s too. The idea came from, I had about 400 records in my collection, which isn’t anything too substantial, I’ve come to find out, but I was proud of it. The concept really wasn’t born from the idea of playing vinyl records, per se. It was really from taking all of the wonders of the great steakhouses that I had worked in and admired over the years — Morton’s, Keens, Peter Luger, Wolfgang’s Gallaghers — and then just mixing it in with really great music and high energy and a casual approach that’s not so stuffy. And since I had a head start by way of records, I just sort of leaned into it and went out and expanded my collection.
Explain how you decorated the space.
Kevin: We wanted the restaurant to have elements of being, we called it New York grit, but obviously some people said, “Don’t use that word, you’re fine dining.” But we wanted it to feel like you’re in New York, when you’re down by the West Side Highway and see the plywood walls that are boxing up future construction, we pasted concert posters over it. So we did a whole wall with that and juxtaposed it with a beautiful, custom-made abstract art piece. And that’s our vinyl library up front. It’s this cool record collection with a ladder to move around and pluck out vinyl sleeves. There’s a wine bar up there. In the middle area, there’s this really beautiful copper wrapped 20-seat bar and that area has this really cool art deco vibe to it, a homage to that bygone era when records were really all you could listen to. It’s amber lit with a lot of candles. And last but not least, you move into this super intimate 32-seat dining room, no white tablecloths, we wanted to keep it kind of modern back there. So there’s two big art pieces from a rock photographer named Ebet Roberts, one of the Beastie Boys with Run-DMC and one with Debbie Harry and Chris Stein from Blondie.
What are the pros and cons to working with your spouse?
Sofia: I would say definitely a pro is this industry can be so demanding, so when you’re with your significant other a hundred percent of the time, it just bonds you in a way that’s really unique and cool and you’re in the trenches together. People always ask me that question. And I’m always like, “I just feel like if we did this and I was doing something else, it would just feel wrong.” On the flip side, there’s a certain learning curve to working with your spouse because you’re working together as partners, but you’re also married. And if you’re not up to par, it’s easy to talk to them as more your spouse rather than coworker. The pros definitely outweigh the cons, at least for us.
Kevin: We have a shared common goal of making the business successful and who better to have at your side ... there’s no question of commitment to the common goal of making it the best steakhouse. So if I can’t get to a table, I can just, without even really saying more than one word, tell Sof. And even in my greatest partnerships in my career, that symbiotic relationship wasn’t really that possible. So it definitely makes us more powerful in terms of our ability to execute service and hospitality. For me, the cons are it’s a totally different relationship, so at home, I want to say yes to everything for Sofia and try to be a great husband and make her day. But as a boss at the restaurant, I have to say no a lot. And sometimes be cheap and say we’re not getting that brand of glassware and I have to do that a lot because we’re a new business in the summer in New York and we’re looking towards the future.
How did you come up with the menu?
Kevin: It is a culmination of some of the best recipes that I had worked with and tasted over the years. I remember being in Beverly Hills at a small sushi shop back in 2010 and having a spicy tuna crispy rice and my mind was blown and I literally saved it for 12 years later to put it on my menu. We’re still working on things; we’ll have new items coming out in the next few weeks too.
What are your future plans?
Sofia: We do want to expand the concept into other cities, specifically music-centric ones. That’s the goal and the dream, so if we could get there, that would be amazing. Kevin and I would like to have a child of our own as well and I think this job enables me to keep my foot in it while also hopefully being able to start our own family one day.