The Sociable Bob Tisch Throws the Ultimate Power Breakfast
NEW YORK (AP) _ Preston Robert Tisch, the 59-year-old president of Loews Corp., loves a good party - especially if it’s his own.
So Tisch - who claims to have invented with his more subdued brother, Laurence, the practice of holding regular business meetings over scrambled eggs, toast and coffee - threw a commemorative ″power breakfast″ this past Wednesday to beat all power breakfasts: an estimated 250 guests. For once, though, it was all fun, no work.
The Tisch clan was there. Sandy Weill, former president of American Express Co. was there. So were real estate magnate Donald Trump; J.B. Fuqua, CEO of Fuqua Industries Inc.; and public relations heavyweight Gershon Kekst.
″There″ was the 540 Park restaurant at the Regency, one of Loews’ hotels. It was in that ornate room with murals of chateaux, crystal chandeliers and mirrored columns that allow you to see who is sitti around the corner that it all began a decade ago.
″Bob″ Tisch reminisced about how it all started during a recent interview - yes, at the Regency, and yes, over breakfast.
″At the time, Loews actively was busy in acquisitions. We were meeting here ourselves, here every morning,″ he said. ″It just seemed to start. Everybody, important people in the business and legal and banking world, and sports figures to a certain degree, started coming and we realized what we had.″
Loews, besides its hotels, owns the Lorillard cigarette business, most of the CNA Financial insurance company and Bulova watchmakers. The company has annual revenue of $5.6 billion.
Now, Tisch says, ″Breakfast has become a new form of doing business.″ And it has become a business in itself, albeit not a profitable one for the Regency. The hotel serves 250 breakfasts a day between 7 a.m. and 11 a.m. Patrons, who generally make reservations, insist on sitting in the main area of the restaurant, and would rather visibly stand in line than be relegated to another room.
″People don’t complain because they know the people in line,″ said Tisch, a native New Yorker who earned a bachelor’s degree in economics from the University of Michigan.
Tuesday through Thursday are the busiest days, but business has picked up during the rest of the week. The real crunch comes around 8:30 a.m., when stretch limousines line up out front.
The veteran staff members greet people by name, know their favorite tables, whether they prefer decaffeinated coffee.
One favorite story is how a couple of first-timers said they didn’t need to look at the menu, they already knew what they wanted: two power breakfasts.
The most popular breakfast is scrambled eggs with the trimmings, $14.75.
People in the know wouldn’t be caught dead eating waffles or pancakes, $5.75.
Others just drink coffee, $2.50, and negotiate deals, millions.
″The major players of the investment banking field have breakfast here,″ Tisch said. ″You can assume deals are being made. A deal, you know, is not that simple. It’s discussed for an amount of time. That permeates the room.″
A waiter whisks away lingering coffee cups containing dregs, brings fresh cups and fills them with steaming coffee.
Guests jump up from the tables or leave the line to use the public telephones right outside. At other power-breakfast restaurants, waiters will bring a phone to the table.
″Some people have two breakfasts, a 7 o’clock appointment and an 8:15 appointment. They take care of two different groups,″ Tisch said.
About 75 percent of the breakfast patrons are regulars, including big-time takeover lawyers Joseph Flom and Martin Lipton, Tisch says.
″On many days you see them having breakfast together. Everybody comes in and is very stunned because they usually are″ on opposing sides of a battle, Tisch said. ″All sides end up in the room on many occasions. Obviously, they fight in the newspapers and they fight among themselves, but when they come in here, we have no problems.″
A few years ago, women were sparse. Now, they represent 20 percent of the business.
Tisch, who lives in the hotel and maintains a home in Rye, N.Y., makes an appearance in the restaurant every morning that he’s in town. He works the room, greeting old acquaintances, making new ones.
″He has a lot of friends,″ said Michelle Oaklan, a spokeswoman for Loews.
But the Truth must be known: Tisch actually eats breakfast upstairs first, with his wife, Joan.
″That gives me the opportunity to read the newspapers and talk to my wife. Sometimes that’s the only time I see her,″ Tisch said.
Which raises a question. Aren’t spouses objecting to this trend? Isn’t it enough already, with business lunches, business dinners, business trips?
″I don’t know of any complaints,″ Tisch said, his eyes twinkling.
In addition to being Loews’ president, Tisch serves as chief operating officer and chairman of the executive committee of the board of directors.
His brother, Laurence, 63, serves as chairman and chief executive officer. He recently was named to CBS Inc.’s board and was invited to more than double his stake in the network to 25 percent.
The two Tisches, who are said to be extremely close, went into business together in the early 1950s, buying the Laurel-in-the-Pines Hotel resort in Lakewood, N.J. They parlayed a series of astute acquisitions over the years into a fortune estimated by Forbes magazine at $1.7 billion.
The Tisches currently control 24 percent of Loews’s stock, in equal stakes. And what is the younger Tisch’s personal breakfast menu? Half a grapefruit, cottage cheese, skimmed milk, coffee.
″I’m on a health kick,″ said the not-too-tall and slightly stocky Tisch.
Why the free commemorative breakfast?
Ms. Oaklan explains: ″To have a celebration and thank everyone who had made this a phenomenon.″
Tisch obviously enjoyed planning it and giving it. The invitation came in the form of a tombstone financial advertisment, printed on newsprint. He and his staff came up with lists, and then lists, of guests.
But party-giving does have its pitfalls, even for Tisch, the party animal.
Some guests were automatically suspicious, and had their secretaries check out the event before accepting.
″I get 20 pieces of mail a day; you know, invitations,″ he said.
But if Loews doesn’t make money on breakfast, why does the company do all this?
The Regency must feed its guests in the morning, Tisch said, and the publicity is good for business.
And, he adds, ″I enjoy it.″