Obit: Restaurateurs Lose Grip on Star's Coattails
THE BUSINESS: Celebrity-endorsed restaurant
OPENED: April 1993
CLOSED: December 1999
CAUSE OF DEATH: Owners' alienation of their celebrity patron
Joe and Gene Silverberg made it their business 16 years ago to befriend Michael Jordan. The Silverbergs were the owners of an upscale chain of Chicago-area clothing stores, Bigsby & Kruthers. Jordan was not yet famous; he was a promising rookie who, the brothers shrewdly noted, had a taste for their finely tailored suits.
The Silverbergs outfitted Jordan with a deeply discounted wardrobe. He reciprocated by licensing the Silverbergs, exclusively, to create restaurants bearing his name in metropolitan Chicago. "The Silverbergs saw that Michael Jordan was this person who was going to be phenomenally successful, so they courted him and they clothed him," says Daniel Kriser, one of 60 investors in the Michael Jordan's Restaurant that the Silverbergs opened in April 1993 in the city's touristy River North district.
Under the license, Jordan didn't have to invest a dime in the restaurant, manage it, or even "appear at any time" in it. Moreover, the agreement provided that his royalties would increase along with the restaurant's revenues. Surely, he would conduct himself in every way to promote the business -- or so the Silverbergs assumed. As Jordan's fame soared to mythic proportions, however, the Silverbergs weren't able to maintain the friendship with him on which the restaurant's success ultimately depended.
Opened with great fanfare, the three-floor, 20,000-square-foot restaurant featured an enormous mural of Jordan and a menu studded with Gold Card prices -- a 23-ounce New York strip steak cost $36, for example. Despite the high prices, the joint was an instant hit. Fans mobbed its street-level bar during Bulls games, and the gift shop moved everything from shot glasses to $1,600 autographed jerseys.
Early on, Jordan lent some of his growing star power to the restaurant by appearing there often. By 1998 the Silverbergs were reporting, in a memo to their partners, that the restaurant's receipts were topping $8.1 million. The brothers exploited their #1 asset to the hilt. They often brought autograph seekers to the star's private dining room -- much to his dismay, according to two sources close to the licensing deal. What's more, the Silverbergs didn't act on all Jordan's suggestions, such as a request to upgrade the restaurant's wine list. As time went on, Jordan distanced himself from the brothers. In the last few years of his basketball career, his visits to the establishment became as rare as the steak it served.
What was left of the bonhomie between Jordan and the Silverbergs disintegrated in late 1997, when the brothers learned that Jordan was investing in a new Chicago restaurant, One Sixtyblue. It was to be located six blocks from the United Center, the Bulls' home court. Its managing partner was to be none other than David Zadikoff, who was the operations chief of the Silverbergs' restaurant.
With Jordan so closely linked to One Sixtyblue, the Silverbergs sued Zadikoff, arguing that the new restaurant was subverting their restaurant's allure and contributing to a 26% dip in revenues. "Without Michael Jordan's active involvement, or worse, [with] his intentional avoidance, the future success of our investment at this location is in serious jeopardy," the Silverbergs wrote their partners. To salvage the business, the brothers unveiled plans to rename the restaurant after (who else?) Chicago's newest favorite son, baseball all-star Sammy Sosa. That provoked Jordan to bring a counterclaim saying that the Silverbergs had attempted to "denigrate" him.
The Silverbergs' beleaguered restaurant closed down two days after Christmas, and on March 15 several legal entities that owned it filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy, putting the Silverberg-Sosa plans and Jordan's suit into question. The Silverbergs, who declined to comment, have also had to liquidate Bigsby & Kruthers for unrelated reasons. Meanwhile, Jordan and Zadikoff have opened a second restaurant, in Chapel Hill, N.C. "Michael's name," Zadikoff says, "obviously has a certain cachet."
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