The Politician: Jerome Kretchmer
Born and raised in the Bronx, a Manhattan resident, a builder in Brooklyn and Queens, a Staten Island congressional candidate, and Mayor Lindsay’s Environmental Protection Administrator, “Jerry” Kretchmer is a living embodiment of the city of New York. Legislator, commissioner, lawyer, developer, housing advocate, campaign manager, artist, and restaurateur are a few roles he has played, as well as husband, father, grandfather, friend, mentor, patron, and counselor.
When he had the idea for a restaurant, it reflected his love of the New York City, its people, and its diversity, democracy, and individuality. Gotham was built to be open, big, and welcoming—a place for people to meet, business done, connections made.
Like this city, Jerry is an ever-evolving man. Not content to rest on past laurels, he continues to push forward, seeking new projects, ideas, and improvements—civil, culinary, and personal. Believing that work is an elixir, Jerry proceeds fearlessly. Like Voltaire’s Candide, one could imagine him saying, “Work spares us from three evils: boredom, vice, and need.” Jerry is free of all three.
It was a bit impulsive when he donned the role of restaurateur in 1983. the real estate market had softened, and Jerry and business partner Jeff Bliss needed a new project. Reveling in the burgeoning restaurant scene, Jerry and his partners developed the gotham concept: a fresh, new, vibrant, welcoming place. his restaurant experience was limited to summer work as a Catskills waiter, which provided him with school money and a life partner, Dorothy, but not much practical experience. Undeterred by the lack of experience, he and his partners hired a few experts, and within four months of signing the lease gotham was opened. Now the work would begin.
Gotham Bar and Grill opened with a bang. an overnight sensation—the buzz on everyone’s lips for a time—but as commotion began to die down, it became evident the restaurant was not stable. Jerry and partners needed to make a change, and Jerry’s determination for success led him to the young chef Alfred Portale. Jerry’s decision quickly proved correct, and the ship was righted.
Jerry’s other restaurants include mesa grill, Judson Grill, and Bar Americain. In 2006, Jerry embarked on a renewed real estate career. He recently finished a building in Brooklyn and is on to another development in the Bronx. Restlessly Jerry keeps on working, dreaming, and thinking of ways to make things better—from business operations to his beloved city and family.
The Aesthete: Alfred Portale
Gotham and Alfred found each other in 1985, when both were young and looking to grow. Gotham was in need of leadership, and Alfred was young, talented, and looking for an opportunity. Jerry Kretchmer and his partners decided Alfred was the right combination of talent and drive to take Gotham to a new level.
The chef and the restaurant evolved together, learning and adapting as each struggled for identity. the restaurant demanded energy, vitality, and attention to detail as its seats filled nightly with exuberant patrons, while the chef sought to explore his evolving culinary ambitions— perfectly plated designs that were bold, inventive, and fresh. The restaurant wanted speed, the chef precision; the restaurant wanted comfort, the chef looked to challenge; the restaurant demanded, the chef insisted. And so with this back and forth, each giving and taking, the two formed an understanding and found themselves wrestling at times, dancing at others.
Alfred and Gotham would dance more than wrestle, and Gotham diners would be the winners as the menu and dining room remained abuzz with dish after dish. The press took note, and their jointly tied fate drew accolades far and near, pushing the pair further into the public’s eye and raising the stakes of their every move. The chef and restaurant would continue to improve their offers as the chef developed new ideas, tools, tricks, and delights. The restaurant would settle into itself and grace, elegance, and a certain stateliness would descend upon it. Soon Gotham was being called a New York institution.
The pair are together still, this their third decade entwined.
Alfred’s food pays homage to a classic training yet also has a distinctly american penchant for world flavors and new combinations. The food is always beautiful, the palate balanced with an understanding of texture, acidity, spice, and weight. It is architectural, no longer needing to reach for heights but rather understanding the palate and the desire to build flavor.
Like his food, Alfred is detailed, determined, emphatic, purposeful, specific, and thoughtful.
The Intellectual: Jeff Bliss
Jeff Bliss originally aspired to study physics, but after two years reset his sights and instead earned a professional degree in architecture and later an MBA. His somewhat eclectic education proved to be useful for his life as a builder, entrepreneur, and something of a Renaissance man. Jeff’s first job, in the early ’70s, was to work as an urban designer for NYC, redistricting tribeca’s commercial and industrial buildings for residential use. It was through this role that he and Jerry Kretchmer would meet and begin the 35-year partnership that allowed gotham to blossom. Jeff has immersed himself in understanding life as much as experiencing it. From architecture to jazz to the pleasures of food and wine, his list of enjoyments is extensive. Ever the student, Jeff has been auditing graduate-level courses in philosophy at the CUNY Graduate Center and the New School for the past six years.
Bon Vivant: Robert Rathe
Robert Rathe believes that life should be lived to the fullest. If he isn’t off on a new venture or adventure, he’s relating an anecdote on a recent gastronomic discovery, or a newfound classic car, or a compelling new business opportunity. Robert’s appreciation for the finer things is betrayed by his understated yet fashion-forward style. He has a generous spirit and is often sharing his latest luxury with friends, family, and even acquaintances. His business acumen and willingness to take risks have allowed Robert to focus much of his time on his family and friends. Robert was quick to lend his support when Jerry Kretchmer proposed the restaurant, and together with his brother Richard, they built much of the gotham dining room in four months. Robert continues today to bring marketing support and product development to gotham while managing his other ventures and ever searching for new exciting business opportunities.
The Entrepreneur: Richard Rathe
Richard Rathe pursues life’s challenges and pleasures with a healthy dose of infectious gusto. Rick, a true numbers man, keeps a determined and steady eye on gotham’s business to assure its success. With an engineering degree from University of Pennsylvania, Rick is equally adept at comprehending new technologies and their potential impact on culture and markets as he is at understanding the vagaries of investment vehicles and financial instruments. During gotham’s creation, Rick—a baby boomer— recognized that his contemporaries wanted a restaurant with great food and service without pretension …a forward-thinking concept in 1984. Rick’s constant search
for new opportunities keeps him abreast of advances across multiple industries— from experiential marketing to real estate and technology. When he finds the right project, he will bring the right collaborations and resources to the table to be successful. Rick and his family can often be found celebrating at Gotham.
The Performer: Bret Csencsitz
Reading, writing, thinking, fighting. a day in the life of Bret Csencsitz, managing partner of Gotham, is an intense tug-of-war between doing and dreaming—keeping Gotham growing strong while pondering the challenges and opportunities of the food movement, and reckoning how he and the restaurant might play a role. The first half of his New York career, Bret was consumed by the film and theater arts much the same way he is immersed in food and wine today. Alongside the works of Shakespeare, books like Extra Virgin, Cooked, and Tomatoland now fill his shelves as he ponders gotham’s menus and the food challenges facing the world. For the past five years, Gotham’s work with GrowNYC has been one of his greatest satisfactions as the organization acts on the very questions central to his concerns as a father, New Yorker, and global citizen.