Smith & Wollensky Celebrates Its 40th Anniversary In NYC


Opened in Midtown Manhattan in 1977, the original Smith & Wollensky has earned its reputation as the quintessential American steakhouse. This year the iconic restaurant is happily celebrating its 40th anniversary. The menu, which expands beyond signature exemplary steaks, offers a variety of market-fresh seafood, poultry, and lamb, as well as delicious side dishes and memorable desserts.

The impressive green and white building on the corner of 49th Street and Third Avenue is 20,000 square feet and features four private event spaces on the second floor in addition to its main dining room. Between the two levels of the restaurant, there are more than 480 seats.


Alan Stillman is the founding force behind Smith & Wollensky and no amateur when it comes to the restaurant business. He began his career by founding and opening T.G.I. Friday’s in 1965 with a $5,000 loan from his mother. Stillman grew and expanded the Friday’s concept to the first twelve units in various cities before selling the rights to Friday’s outside of New York City in the mid-seventies, maintaining ownership of the Upper East Side flagship, which he sold by the end of the decade.

As Friday’s business grew and expanded, Stillman created sister concepts around the city: Tuesday’s, Wednesday, and Thursday’s, each with their own unique concept. Soon after these endeavors, he opened the famous Smith & Wollensky at 49th Street and Third Avenue in 1977 which grew to nine locations around the country.

During this time, Stillman continued to develop a series of unique standalone restaurant concepts in Manhattan that he referred to as “one-of-a’s,” such as Manhattan Ocean Club, Maloney & Porcelli, and The Post House. In 2001, he took the group public with partner Tom Lee, a venture capitalist, naming it Smith & Wollenksy Restaurant Group.

Alan Stillman
Alan Stillman

As they continued to grow, Stillman and his son Michael partnered with some of the brightest young chefs in the business and award-winning design firm AvroKO to transform Manhattan Ocean Club into the Quality Meats, and Park Avenue Café into Park Avenue Summer (Autumn, Winter, Spring), which was awarded two stars from New York Times food critic Frank Bruni. In 2007, the The Smith & Wollensky Restaurant Group was sold for approximately $100 million.

After the impressive sale, along with his son Michael, Stillman founded Fourth Wall Restaurants, now called Quality Branded. The group is made up of the flagship Smith & Wollensky, Maloney & Porcelli, Park Avenue, Quality Meats (NYC and Miami Beach), Quality Italian (NYC and Denver) and Quality Eats.

We were fortunate to speak with Alan about the history of Smith & Wollensky, his advice to aspiring restaurateurs, and most important, the future.

How has Smith & Wollensky transformed over the past 40 years?

We really haven’t! And we’re proud of it. There have been more decorative placards added over the years, more awards on the wall, and some menu items have been updated a bit, but we’re still pretty much the same. We have the best in the business that have kept the experience top-notch for diners. Our Head Butcher oversees more than 3 tons of meat that come in every month for over 30 years; we have over 50 staff members, including 30 servers that have been with Smith & Wollensky for more than 20 years, and our family personally has overseen the restaurant since we started back in 1977.

What are you most excited about for the future?

I am most excited to see the evolution of the restaurant business as access and opportunities open up all over the world, resulting in more talented global chefs and restaurateurs coming to larger US cities to share their hospitality and cuisine. To have the most talented chefs from all over the world coming to our cities to open up restaurants and give access to more diverse and interesting cuisine is something to be excited about!   


How does family play a part in the history and culture of Smith & Wollensky?

I founded Smith & Wollensky 40 years ago in the hopes of creating a world-class steakhouse that would set the standard for a classic NYC steak experience. For the past 5-10 years, my son Michael has been running it. It is truly rewarding as an entrepreneur and as a parent to see your child take an interest in what you have created. His fresh eyes and approach help guide the institution so that our guests from the past 40 years can share it with their sons and daughters. Michael honors what makes Smith & Wollensky unique and his guidance further refines what we do. 

What advice would you offer to someone pursuing a career in the restaurant business?

Don’t’!  Starting out in the restaurant business is brutal with unforgiving hours and back-breaking work. It’s a long road. For those interested in the ownership side, the complicities of being an owner increase daily. Go to law school instead!

To learn more or to make a reservation at Smith & Wollensky check out their website here.