Photo: Lawrence Weibman
Twenty five years ago today, Darryl Strawberry hit three home runs for the New York Mets in a game against the Chicago Cubs. Fast forward to 2010 and the former Mets, Yankees and "Celebrity Apprentice" star is hoping for another big hit with the opening off Strawberry's Sports Grill today in Douglaston, Queens. Whatever happens with the restaurant, the friends and family party Wednesday was success: The guests included "Bachelorette" star Ali Fedotowsky and her new man, Robert Martinez, reigning Miss U.S.A. Rima Fakih, former New York Knicks star John Starks, and former New York Yankees greats Whitey Ford, Bernie Williams, and Tino Martinez.
So what can we expect from the one-time Rookie of the Year's rookie venture as a restaurateur? Slashfood sat down for a one-on-one with Strawberry to find out...
SF: How did this all come about?
DS: [Through] my friend [restaurateur] Eytan [Sugarman]. I met him through [former Yankees teammate] Charlie Hayes back in the day. He had been talking to me about the restaurant business for the last couple of years but I was not interested. He owns Southern Hospitality so I spent a lot of time eating there and I loved the food. It was unbelievable. We talked about the possibility of opening a restaurant in New York but I said I wasn't interested in Manhattan. So he called me a few months ago and said he found a place and I'm going to love it. I said, "I told you I didn't want to do a place in Manhattan." "No, this is in Queens," he said. "Queens?" I said, "Now you're talking." It just felt right. This area is home -- my roots and background, everything I've done -- I know Queens well. So I came and looked at the place with my wife and I said, this could work. It's a great place, a great neighborhood.
SF: How will you separate yourself from other athlete-restaurateurs?
DS: I wanted to make it fun -- that's the most important thing. First, I wanted to have good food, but I wanted to make it fun. A place where people go not only to see my name on the wall of the restaurant and see pictures, but I'm here, they can interact with me. I'm not some type of person who's going to open a restaurant and never be around to greet people. I think that's really the most important thing. I'm a people person -- I'm not just going to stand around in the background and make a living off of it. I want to be around the fans, I want to be around the people.
SF: Do you live in New York now?
DS: I have a place in the city but I live in Missouri.
SF: So when can the fans expect to see you here?
DS: For the first six months I'm going to be around a lot. I made that commitment since day one when I decided that I wanted to go down this road and become a restaurant owner.
SF: Do you find yourself evaluating other restaurants in a different way now?
DS: I don't like to worry about what other places are doing. I want to keep it focused on what we're doing.
SF: If you have success here, are you thinking about expansion?
DS: It's a possibility but we're taking it one step at a time.
SF: There are a lot of similarities between the menu here and at Southern Hospitality. Was this your decision or Eytan's?
DS: It was both of us. If we're going to have a restaurant with great food, you want it to be like Southern Hospitality -- the food is great!
SF: Is there a single menu item at Strawberry's that excites you the most?
DS: There are so many good things. The collard greens will be great. The cornbread will be great. The burgers will be great. A solid burger menu, very unique. And you know what? It's affordable. You want people to come in and enjoy themselves.
SF: Did you eat this type of food when you were training as a player?
DS: Of course!
SF: All of it?
DS: All of it! No question. It's not fattening. Just a typical place where we go as athletes. This is a good atmosphere.
SF: If you had to set up a meal from appetizer to entree to dessert at Strawberry's, what would it be?
DS: That's tough. There are so many good options. I think I'd just go right for the strawberry shake and fried Twinkies! I had some the other day with my daughters and they loved it. I said "What is that?" They said try it so I did and it was unbelievable. You need to eat those Twinkies fast, while their hot.
SF: If it was Darryl Strawberry's last meal on the planet what's on his plate?
DS: Collard greens, cornbread, mac and cheese. Classic. And you know you're going to get full.
Strawberry's Sports Grill 42-15 235th Street Douglaston, NY 11363 (718) 517-8787