East End Hospitality King Zach Erdem Shares His Hamptons Story

Zach Erdem
Zach Erdem

Photo Credit: Donnelly Marks

Hard work and persistence are two things that Zach Erdem, owner of 75 Main, Kozu, Hotel ZE and AM Nightclub in the Hamptons, maintains as his core values in life. And while the young entrepreneur hit his all-time success last summer as he acquired the three haute properties in Southampton village, not much has changed in his daily routine.

Coming to the Hamptons without a dollar to his name or knowledge of the English language as he emigrated from Turkey to the U.S. at just 21 years old, Erdem started his career modestly as a dishwasher in the back kitchen of 75 Main and eventually worked his way up the ladder to run the high-profile property. This clearly did not happen overnight. Erdem transitioned from dishwasher to bus boy to bartender until he was noticed by restaurateur Nello Balan, owner of Southampton’s premier dining and nightclub destination, Nello’s, about two years later. By luck, Erdem quickly went from bartender to General Manager of the spot in just a few quick weeks, and eventually ended up running the Hamptons nightlife mecca for six years until he was fired without much notice.

“After all that time, it was discouraging to have that happen,” Erdem recalled. “But then I turned around and took over 75 Main and kept things going strong, and later as Nello’s was going down and his partner was looking to sell, I took over the space as well and turned it into what is now Kozu and Hotel ZE.”

Although it may have been motivated from a bit of revenge, Erdem nonetheless revamped the destination back into a coveted dining spot once again, holding down court in the Southampton area. Has much changed? Not really. “I really am a simple man,” Erdem explains. “I work seven days a week, days and nights. And if someone is out, I step in and help. Because there has to be somebody there to do it, and I know what it is like to be in that situation because I was there once before.” He credits his success to keeping his end goal in mind, and staying on a straight path—no drinking, no partying, and he saved rent by actually living above 75 Main—both to keep an eye on the property and to keep his wallet full.

75 Main
75 Main

Photo Credit: 75 Main

As we are in the peak of Summer 2017, the Long Island beach destination is hot as ever. Haute Living caught up with the man of the Hamptons himself to get the inside scoop on running a business on the East End, the challenges a business owner faces, his favorite spots and his key to achieving the American dream:

HL: How has Summer 2017 been going so far? 

ZE: The summer actually started slow because June was abnormally chilly. We did not get as big of a crowd as we usually do because we didn’t have your average June weather, so people would just show up on the weekends and head back to the city during the week. But July has really picked up and August will be the same.

HL: What’s your busiest time of the season?

ZE: July and August for sure. We have to make up for our whole year in those two months so they are very important.

HL: What’s the most challenging part about being in the hospitality business in the Hamptons?

ZE: The Hamptons is essentially three months of business, so you really have to do it well. During the winter, there’s maybe 10 restaurants open all year—75 Main being one of them (Kozu stays open until January). One of the most difficult parts about it is to find good staff. It is a very easy place to get a job in the summer—almost everyone is hiring. But it’s hard to find good, experienced people due to the short season. Everyone wants to come out in the summer and make good money, but few can stay all year. And then once you hire the staff, train them, and they really get good at their job, summer is almost over and then you have to start all over. The short season is really challenging—especially with how high the rent is here. You have to be able to maintain your business even when things get slow.

HL: What are some of your favorite Hamptons spots? Aside from your own, of course..

ZE: If I’m leaving Southampton, I love to go up to Montauk to the beach. Gurney’s is one of my favorite spots—I like to go have some lunch and stay late into the night at the beach and go back up to the restaurant for dinner. It’s nice to get away from the Hamptons for a little bit. Some local places that I like are Tutto Il Giorno right down the street for dinner—they have very good Italian food—but I am a big beach guy, so on my days off I always love to relax at the beach. Cooper’s Beach in Southampton is my favorite. Also, I love to head up to the North Fork to get fresh produce for my restaurant from the little local farms. It’s so beautiful up there, it’s also nice to go through the vineyards while I’m around as well. It’s a great place to take a ride.

HL: What’s the best piece of advice you could give someone starting out as you did in the Hamptons? 

ZE: I think the first thing you must decide is what you want to do in your life. If you want to be a restaurant owner, a farmer, a soccer player, etc.—you need to decide that before you make your moves. When I first came to this country at 21 years old, the one thing I was sure of was that I was going too make it. I said to my mom, “Mom, will not come back until I make it in America. When that happens, that will be the day I come back to Turkey.” And I kept true to my promise. My family was very poor, we came from nothing, and I promised that I would always remain true to my values—I would not drink, smoke, do drugs, party—I would work and make myself a better person. And then after this, the second thing you have to do is work hard, not just to pay the bills, but to be smart because there are a lot of opportunities in this world and you can’t be afraid to take chances and lose. Failing will only make you stronger and will give you more experience and you can learn from your mistakes. Be honest, work hard, stay focused and take advantage of all the tools and luxuries around you to achieve your success.