For those who want their champagne wishes and caviar dreams to come true, auto dealer Richard Rubio is an enabler.
In July, Rubio opened Manhattan Motorcars of the Hamptons, a luxury dealership in Westhampton Beach, N.Y., a tony spot on Long Island where the captains of corporate America like to summer.
On the first floor of the modern structure, Rubio showcases shiny new vehicles with sticker prices of $45,000 and up: Rolls-Royces, Lamborghinis, Lotuses, Spykers and Saleen S7s.
But take the elevator to the second floor and you'll find yourself in the lobby of Rubio's second venture, which he also opened in July - an upscale Italian restaurant called Annona.
Rubio runs the dealership and restaurant with his wife, Eileen; his sons Barry, 40; Rob, 40, not twins-they're less than a year apart; Steven, 36; and their wives.
Rubio and Eileen eat dinner at Annona almost every night.
"People told me I was crazy doing a restaurant," says 60-year-old Rubio. "It's no different than any other service business. It's just being there for your customers."
Rubio, who has been selling used Rolls-Royces and other luxury vehicles in Westhampton Beach since 1978, says the idea for Annona originated in 2002, when he traveled to Scottsdale, Ariz., to visit Steven.
It was two years before Rubio planned to break ground for his luxury dealership with partners Sam Domb and Brian Miller, who own Manhattan Motorcars Inc., in Manhattan. So Steven took him to see Roger Penske's Scottsdale 101 Auto Collection there, a 41-acre complex that has 10 franchises, a test track and racing museum. Rubio says he was especially interested in the Starbucks and luncheonette that was above one of Penske's showrooms.
"I said, 'I'd really like to have something like that,' " Rubio remembers.
He also remembers his family's reaction to the idea. "They hated it. They said, 'You're crazy. It's not going to work,' " Rubio says. "They were apprehensive about the investment and about the late hours required to make a restaurant work."
Rubio soldiered on with his restaurant concept, spending evenings interviewing chefs from Manhattan and meeting with architects. After a winter's worth of work, he created the blueprint for Annona and hired two chefs - Sara Jenkins and Zakary Pelaccio - who had earned kudos from food critics and welcomed the opportunity to create a restaurant.
Jenkins, who grew up in Tuscany, Italy, was an ideal fit for Rubio's theme. "It was just such a wacky idea," Jenkins says of Annona. "It's so wacky that it's almost perfect."
Jenkins leads the kitchen staff of 12 in creating entrees ranging from a $26 homemade sausage to an $85 wood oven-roasted dry-aged rib-eye steak for two that comes from a farm in Pennsylvania.
Annona's menu changes daily, featuring the freshest ingredients at hand. Sometimes those ingredients include mozzarella that's shipped from Italy and arrives at the showroom's side door twice a week.
How much does it cost to hire two highly acclaimed chefs?
"A lot of money," says Rubio, who wouldn't reveal their salaries.
High stakes seem to be the theme for this restaurant, which features a glass-topped, black-lacquer bar imported from Italy, a 3,000-square-foot kitchen and a wood-burning oven used for baking bread.
Rubio spent $8 million on a 24,000-square-foot dealership to house his new- and used-car showrooms and restaurant. He estimates the restaurant accounted for about $1.5 million of that amount.
But Rubio says he's already starting to see the return on his investment.
"If we sell one Rolls-Royce because of the restaurant in a week, we've deferred our costs tremendously," Rubio says. "Look at our profit margin on the car." Rubio would not reveal his profit margin.
Rubio's vehicles sell from $45,000 to $425,000. His goal is to sell 10 new Rolls-Royces in his first full year of operation.
Relish and Rolls
Rubio treats his restaurant customers with the same level of ultraluxury service that he does his dealership customers. He tells the story of a restaurant customer who asked for ketchup, only to be told that Annona didn't keep any on hand. Rubio's solution: Chef Jenkins created her own blend of ketchup, which she bottled and keeps on hand should that customer return.
Though Westhampton attracts a wealthy crowd, the area has mostly casual restaurants. Annona has the opportunity to attract the 1,902 year-round residents of Westhampton Beach, as well as the thousands of people who populate the town during the summer.
Barry Skolnick, 49, says he comes to Annona for the food, but the ability to look down at the luxury vehicles while he's at the bar is a bonus.
"These kind of cars, to me, are art," says Skolnick, a real estate developer and resident of Quogue, near Westhampton Beach. "You're not just dining with art on the walls - it's functional."
Rubio rewards his new-vehicle customers with gift certificates for two to dine at Annona.
The restaurant attracts about 150 people on Friday and Saturday nights. Rubio's advertising for Annona centers mainly around Hamptons lifestyle magazines. His ad budget for the restaurant and dealership over the summer was $100,000.
"It will increase as we start expanding the business," Rubio says.
The restaurant and showroom are open in the evening. Rubio says diners want to peruse his showroom after they've finished their meals.
Rubio says in August a customer who had purchased three cars from him in the last six months was dining in the restaurant with his family.
"He said, 'Can you open up downstairs?'" Rubio says. "We brought him down, and we sold him a (Lamborghini) Murcielago roadster, which is about $340,000, after dinner. That's the type of one-on-one relationship we have with our customers."