Albert Gad, a businessman and entrepreneur, has lived in the United Nations Plaza high-rise apartment building facing the East River for the last 15 years. On evenings when he did not feel like going out for dinner — Gad prefers kosher — he often would order the tasty sushi from the restaurant on the ground floor of the building.
When the establishment went out of business, Gad recalled during a recent interview, he had “a premonition” that the space could be ideal for a high-quality kosher restaurant. Plus, he could still stay home and order dinner in.
“I thought it could be successful,” the Forest Hills native said. “There were few kosher restaurants in the neighborhood, and I felt I could give the kosher community an experience” — a business lunch or “an evening out at a restaurant with great meals and with ambiance — so I took a risk.”
The result is the UN Plaza Grill, an elegant space that can seat 172 people, which opened in the summer of 2017. It features large windows and seating on two levels — the high ceiling assures a quiet atmosphere — and offering an international menu created by award-winning chefs known for their Japanese signature cuisine.
Gad listed a number of reasons why operating a kosher restaurant is problematic. He noted that UN Plaza Grill is closed Friday evenings and Shabbat, and business is slow during the High Holy Day season. And of course, offering strictly kosher cuisine entails additional expense, from the food itself to the cost of rabbinic supervision.
“There are clearly other more attractive investment opportunities, but this is more than a business to me,” Gad said. Rather, “it is kind of a hobby,” he acknowledged. “It’s a passion. Part of my objective is to create a space where people can enjoy a kosher experience while building a strong community that is sustainable.”
Gad’s primary business is Diamonds International. He is president and CEO of the company, based in New York and Miami, with more than 120 locations in all, including the Caribbean, Mexico and Alaska.
He said he learned life-long values from his parents, who taught that “giving back is important, and not just writing a check” but by taking on social responsibility. After his father’s death 18 years ago, Gad became shomer Shabbat and deeply involved in Jewish life.
He preferred not to discuss financial details about the restaurant but said he “hasn’t lost money” on it and that, with virtually no publicity, it hasn’t hit its full potential yet.
Whether he is operating his jewelry business or the restaurant, Gad prefers not to micro-manage. “I am good at hiring people and giving them a great deal of responsibility,” he said, noting that he has great faith in Ghandi Kimia, the Plaza Grill’s general manager, who has extensive experience in the New York restaurant industry.
During a recent full-course lunch, Kimia, who is from Morocco, explained how he has become an expert on kosher food and clientele. “At first I didn’t understand the kosher concept,” he said. “Everything was prepared ‘well done’.” Kosher food preparation is more sophisticated now, he said, emphasizing the “full dining experience” at the restaurant, which includes careful attention to the presentation of the meal and the atmosphere of the room.
UN Plaza Grill has hosted bar and bat mitzvahs, weddings and other social events, and offers live music on select weekends.