The Rockefeller Center dining venues run by just-booted Patina Group enjoy one of the world’s choicest eatery locations — but might be too much to chew for all but the best-heeled restaurant companies.
As The Post first reported Monday, Rock Center landlord Tishman Speyer won’t renew the lease on Patina’s Sea Grill, Rock Center Cafe and Cucina & Co. when it expires in January 2020. The venues surrounding the beloved landmark’s sunken plaza comprise 18,000 square feet of indoor space in total, plus outdoor space in summer.
The complex is visited by 350,000 people daily — not including the thousands who work at companies such as Comcast and stores including Michael Kors and FAO Schwarz.
But, “it’s time for a change,” said Cushman & Wakefield super-broker Joanne Podell of the underperforming Patina spaces, where she isn’t involved.
“Rockefeller Center should offer great culinary experiences,” Podell said.
Of course, Rock Center isn’t Times Square. Tishman Speyer, led by Rob Speyer, invested hundreds of millions of dollars to restore the complex’s original grandeur and reposition its office and retail space. It won’t likely settle for a chain, mid-market restaurant tenant.
James Famularo, another retail broker who’s not involved at the location, speculated, “Tishman Speyer will probably want $400 per square foot from a new tenant and profit-share above a base. Unfortunately, many operators are reluctant to sign deals at that price point because of the minimum wage increases, so finding a new tenant may be challenging in this environment.” The landlord declined to comment on rent.
The Sea Grill and the other sunken-plaza eateries have been at Rock Center since the mid-1980s, when they were owned by New York company Restaurant Associates. Patina and R.A. became separate companies in 2006.
But as a more casual dining style typified by “grazing” menus and communal tables took hold, the flagship Sea Grill and only slightly cheaper Rock Center Cafe struck many as stodgy, except during the tourist-packed Christmas season.
Restaurant Associates president of restaurant services Ed Brown — who was the Sea Grill’s three-star head chef for 14 years until 2007 — recalls that “It was like David Rockefeller’s private club when it opened in 1985. Men wore jackets.”
A 2000 relaunch made the place less stuffy and garnered good reviews. But Patina struggled to keep the venues profitable in the past few years.
Tishman Speyer said in a statement that it’s “now exploring other partners and concepts in food and beverage” to replace Patina.
Sea Grill, other popular Rockefeller Center restaurants to close in January
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An industry source said, “It’s an open secret that Tishman Speyer was talking to other restaurants about taking over the Rock Center spaces earlier.” A Tishman Speyer rep said only that the company “is constantly in talks with several restaurateurs about a variety of spaces.”
One source cited tension between landlord and tenant over the popular alfresco bar. Tishman Speyer last year approached Patina about taking it over to run by itself, as the real estate giant does with the Rainbow Room and Top of the Rock.
“But the Patina guys said, ‘no way — it’s the only part of the operation that makes money,’ ” the source said.
Even so, news of the ousting might have taken Patina by surprise. The Sea Grill posted a LinkedIn search for a new executive chef just last week. Patina’s rep declined to comment.
Patina still owns or operates New York restaurants including Lincoln Ristorante, Stella 34 at Macy’s, the State Grill in the Empire State Building, Brasserie 8 ¹/₂ and La Fonda del Sol.
The company was sold in 2014 to Delaware North, a privately held hospitality giant boasting $3.2 billion in annual revenue and run by Boston Bruins owner Jeremy Jacobs.
Although well-regarded New York restaurant executive Nick Valenti remains as Patina’s CEO, sources said his managerial role has been diminished.