Michael says customer service is the most important thing in hospitality and that will be his focus at Uptown. And the food.
Hillcrest’s bar and eatery, Uptown Tavern, is getting new ownership and the buyer is no stranger to hospitality in the community.
Uptown Tavern officially opened its doors in 2012 and has become a hot social destination serving great food and beverages.
Current owner David Cohen sold Uptown Tavern to Michael Saltsman along with his business partner Scott Borden of ETC Adventures LLC. The keys will be handed over once the liquor license is approved. That should take about a month.
Saltsman, one-half of the ownership team, has built a career in the hospitality business right in Hillcrest where he's managed Urban Mo’s for 30-years.
He has always had a dream of owning his own restaurant and often frequents Uptown Tavern. He liked what he saw and how he was treated as a consumer.
He says the decision to go out on his own and re-create what Uptown was doing started with a conversation inside the restaurant with his current business partner.
“We were like we need to take this place and create it someplace else because it’s so cool; it’s one of our favorite places to hang out,” said Michael. “We like the way it looks and everything. And we were looking around and looking around and we couldn’t find anything.
"We started a conversation, and so my dream restaurant that I wanted to create sort of just materialized. I thought it was definitely the will of the universe. It was crazy," he laughs.
The thing he likes best about Uptown Tavern is the customer service and how the staff makes you feel so at home. He says after 30 years in the gay community at Urban Mo’s, he learned that the guests are the most important.
“I mean anyone can get a drink anywhere. You can get a burger anywhere. How you going to make that person feel? That experience? That one-on-one,” he said. “That’s what separates you. And because that is something that is very important to me when I find it someplace else, it really resonates, and I always got that from [Uptown Tavern] as a guest.”
Michael says that creedo is a great testament to the leadership of previous owner David Cohen and his partner. They ensure that there is a kindness to guest services all the way from the management staff to the waiters.
“I’m lucky to inherit an already a wonderful running machine,” he said.
As far as making any initial changes, Michael is not planning on it. He wants to immerse himself inside the flow of the business first. From there he can adjust some things which reflect his own life experience.
“But the foundation is definitely there – a very strong foundation,” he said. “May put a heater on the patio, light up the front of the building, you know things like that. But definitely nothing major. I’m not going to change the name, I’m not getting rid of the staff. The food’s working.“
One thing that he knows he will add to the business is fresh produce. He says he is not a foodie, but locally grown farm-to-table vegetables is something he will incorporate into the menu, working with the current chef to come up with ideas.
“Food-wise that would probably be my focus. Getting the chef with the growers. And I thought it would be very exciting for her to be able to have all these wonderful fresh veggies to create with.”
As for the nightlife, and the events that take place at Uptown Tavern, again Michael says he has to study the clientele before he makes any big decisions.
One of his job descriptions as manager at Mo’s over the years was event planner and he loves doing it. But first he must scope out the feel of the area and go from there. He says what you get from nearby Flicks and Mo’s may not work at Uptown.
“I don’t think it’s the same; it will be a different product. But I don’t know the clientele well enough and how were gonna deliver the new entertainment. I was in charge of throwing events at Mo’s. Throwing events is something I love to do. I definitely want to incorporate that there. It’s more obviously focused on food I don’t want to ruin that experience.”
Leaving a place he’s been associated with for 30-years is bittersweet. But he takes away a great experience that has taught him a lot and he is forever grateful to owners Chris Shaw and Matt Ramon.
“I’ve been trained by the best. I’ve been schooled by people that own four very successful restaurants in this community. I am very grateful for what they taught me. We still have a very good relationship to this day. They were super excited about the restaurant.”
Michael hopes to get the keys to his new restaurant within a month. The ABC licensing and payment must be made and then then he can officially walk into the business and claim it as his own.
He may have to hit the ground running if that liquor license is approved just before Gay Pride, but he is up for the challenge.
“I just wanted to try it before I died; to be a business owner. Who would have thought?” he laughs.