“Exceptionalism is Never Random!” Words of Wisdom With Nelson Braff of Hunt & Fish Club NYC
“I can’t point to a single book. However, I like to read biographies of exceptional people across the spectrum — everyone from Howard Schultz to Howard Stern; from Condoleezza Rice to Hillary Clinton; from Jimmy Connors to Tommy Lasorda. I find these types of people fascinating. Exceptionalism is never random!”
I had the pleasure to interview Nelson Braff, one of the founders of the Hunt & Fish Club in NYC. Other founders include restaurateur Eytan Sugarman, and hedge fund maven Anthony Scaramucci.
Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that happened to you since you started your company?
We opened Hunt & Fish Club on January 5, 2015. In the first couple of weeks, we had a steady clientele, thanks to some pre-opening publicity and a good amount of foot traffic. We weren’t exactly packed, but we were doing a fairly brisk business. Then, two to three weeks later, a guest with a huge social media following came in, ordered a seafood tower, snapped a photo and posted it on his social media feeds. Later that night, one of my partners called to tell me we were “trending!” I had no idea what that meant, but learned quickly. From then on — literally, the very next night — everyone knew us and we became a very popular New York City destination restaurant. I learned a very valuable lesson about the importance of social media marketing during that time.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
We are a very formal-looking restaurant but still maintain a very relaxed feel, which isn’t always easy to do. Even though we’re located in the Times Square area, the restaurant has become a neighborhood-type place. We have lots of regulars, and it’s quite common for guests to see people they know, stop by other tables for a while, ask us to combine their tables, etc. Occasionally, guests will ask if it’s OK to say hi to someone they recognize but don’t really know. We credit the warm, welcoming vibe for helping bring people together. That’s why we included the word “club” in our name — not so much to signify a membership club, but rather a “clubhouse” feel where people know one another and are comfortable and at ease in their surroundings.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
Aside from being the one to get me into this industry, my partner Eytan Sugarman taught me so much — lessons you can’t learn in a book like how to create a concept and a vibe. That’s not even getting into his culinary knowledge — -he’s far more of a food person than I’ll ever be. His vision for concepts is staggeringly good.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
I’d like to think I was good — and giving back — before I got into the hospitality business. That said, by getting into this industry, I (and we) have had an opportunity to do even more. As part of a concept I call “HFC Cares” we assist charitable groups in raising funds and gaining additional exposure. When we are able to, we offer our space to charity groups at deeply discounted rates so they can keep more of what they raise. Some of our recent events include:
§ Stand Up For No Kid Hungry, a comedy night to benefit the hunger-relief organization, “No Kid Hungry”
§ Strawberry Ministries, Mr. and Mrs. Darryl Strawberry’s organization combating opioid addiction
§ Project ALS, we have hosted this event for two successive years, where the host, who is one of our partners, raised over $3.5 million
§ Puerto Rico hurricane relief, hosted by Jorge and Laura Posada to raise vital funding for the Puerto Rican people devastated by the recent hurricanes.
Do you have a favorite book that made a deep impact on your life? Can you share a story?
I can’t point to a single book. However, I do like to read biographies of exceptional people across the spectrum — everyone from Howard Schultz to Howard Stern; from Condoleezza Rice to Hillary Clinton; from Jimmy Connors to Tommy Lasorda. I find these types of people fascinating. Exceptionalism is never random!
Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why?
Either Bruce Springsteen or Billy Joel. It might sound cliché, but when I look back, their music is a constant, like the soundtrack of my life. It was always on somewhere — at home, driving in the car, at clubs. They’re also New York / New Jersey guys, which would make a meeting a lot easier to arrange. In fact, since the Boss is performing just down the street at “Springsteen on Broadway,” let me say right now that I’d love to sit down with him and buy him a meal and of course, the next time Billy is back at MSG there is an open invite for him also.