Carlyle on the Green, Carlyle at the Palace, Trump on the Ocean
Guilty Pleasures: Frequent trips to South Beach
Crowning Moment: Signing a deal with Donald Trump, the one person who, until then, he always wanted to partner with.
When I first met Steve Carl a million years ago and he told me he owned the place nestled above Bethpage Black, I almost didn’t believe him, but I could tell he wasn’t lying. The unassuming character betrayed the wisdom of a guy who’s had his fair share of rodeos in the restaurant and catering world. Steve’s no stranger to being underestimated, but that’s the beauty of his rise to the top. His entrée was in 1991 when he and John Tunney (Tunney of Besito, Honu and American Roadside Burger fame) created Carltun (as in Carl+Tunney), the catering outlet at Oheka where Gary Melius was resurrecting Otto Kahn’s castle from a derelict state to become the crown jewel it is today. In 1995, the duo made their way to Carltun at Eisenhower Park for a brief stint before Steve would venture out on his own and eventually, in 1997, win the bid for control of what is now Carlyle On The Green, the premier facility at Bethpage State Park, where he hosts celebrated events (like the US Open) as well as weddings and corporate affairs. In 2006, he signed the deal with The Donald for Trump On The Ocean. Three years ago, he minted his name to the former Race Palace (known before that as The Vanderbilt) to create Carlyle At The Palace, where he brings his catering background to his love of the night scene in the form of Deco 1600 Restaurant. And with his kids at his side, there are no doubt plans for more. He is the consummate networker, ever expanding his base, always looking for the next move. But the past is never far behind him…
I started washing dishes at a diner in East Meadow. I wanted money, but I was underage (there are worse things you can do). My dad was a plumber and my mom was a housewife. I loved working. I was the youngest Eagle Scout in Nassau County; I loved getting merit badges—everything, tying knots, the plumbing badge… I could build a house. I loved hiking and camping, but I don’t do very much of that anymore (maybe I got my fill as a kid). Eventually, I went to Buffalo for business, and got my BS, but for me it was always about being industrious.
Hobbies? Nowadays, my business is my life. And my kids. And I love going to ball games—baseball and football. Obviously being on a golf course you gotta love sports. (Admit it Steve, and the shirts. You love those wild shirts.)
Being out at night? Yeah, I love being social. Meeting and greeting. It’s fun to see everyone out having a good time. I love socializing. The contacts you make turn into relationships later. I started Party in the Park (Wednesdays at Carlyle On The Green, overlooking the Bethpage Black). It became the Wednesday night place to be all summer long. And it’s a band concept—there’s live music, rather than a DJ dance crowd.
Carlyle At The Palace and Deco 1600 (it’s at 1600 Round Swamp Road) started three years ago. It was an underutilized space, now there’s OTB upstairs (separate entrance), club’s open Thursday nights, private and corporate parties and catering Friday and Saturday nights. It’s a 25-45 year old group on Thursdays. It’s a DJ, glitz, lighting thing.
I’m like a kid at heart, I love the action. I like when people come out to have a good time. I like seeing everything that’s new. It’s a big social event. I like to go to parties, events, I love the clothes. It’s great when people are dressed up.
The other guys? It’s a competitive business, but each of us has our own way. But we’re all workaholics. We eat, breathe and sleep the business. And we all have passion. We did the LI Hospitality Ball last year (here, at Carlyle On The Green) and it brought a great cross-section of people together, because of our different followings. And our different personalities.
In this business, the marketing is key. Only the strong survive. The big challenge is constantly changing and reinventing yourself. Everything has a shelf life, but that’s the fun. When I go out at night, it’s like school. I’m constantly looking for ideas. I look at what other people are doing and I think how I can do it differently. I want to do it stronger, smarter, bigger, better. I try everything and experiment and pull from all sides and run things parallel. Each property? Adding to the portfolio isn’t so much a change as it is an adjunct to what I do, an enhancement to what I’m about. I’m sincere about making people happy—and I don’t forget where I come from.
(excerpt from live interview)