Where Deals Are Regularly Dished
Making an important business call in an unfamiliar city? Every town has at least one place that locals love but visitors never try. Here is a guide to some legendary dealmaking eateries across the country.
Business is discussed, ideas are hatched, and deals are often sealed over a meal rather than in an office. Power dining spots like the Four Seasons in New York or Spago's in Los Angeles are well known. But there are a lot of lesser known and arguably less swank establishments where business chatter mixes with clatter from the kitchen.
Wal-Mart founder Sam Walton was a regular and Don Tyson, who built Tyson Foods, was recently seen here lunching with Arkansas governor Mike Beebe. Neal's Cafe has been a favorite of Arkansas farmers, businessmen, and politicos since the 1940s. The decor hasn't changed much over the years, with its sparkly gold seating and taxidermic trophies on the walls. The cuisine hasn't bowed to fashion either, with down-home country favorites like fried chicken, pork chops, and meat loaf served with sides of yams, green beans, and gravy-smothered biscuits. Patrons say the pies will bring tears to your eyes so get an extra piece to go. The waitresses, who call everyone "hon," will wrap a slice in wax paper affixed with a toothpick. Address: 806 North Thompson Street.
GORAT'S STEAK HOUSE
It's one of Warren Buffett's favorite haunts and he often dines here with members of Berkshire Hathaway's board, like Microsoft's Bill Gates and Yahoo's Susan Decker. Buffett usually orders a T-bone steak, as steak is Gorat's specialty, though adventurous diners could opt for fried ravioli or herring in sour cream. Sides include hash browns, saut�ed mushrooms, and a salad that is basically iceberg lettuce topped with a radish. Like Neal's, Gorat's opened in the 1940s and its interior, which some might call fusty, has also remained about the same. The walls are brick and wood paneling, the flooring burgundy carpet, the tables Formica, the plants fake. The oil paintings by unknown Italian artists are wincingly bad but with Buffett nearby entertaining the likes of Michael Eisner and Martha Stewart, no one pays much attention to the art. Address: 4917 Center Street.
Redwood City, California
This Silicon Valley location is where lots of techies develop ideas and discuss future ventures. Open 24 hours, the booths are almost always filled with patrons crowded around a laptop or even sketching something out on a paper napkin. The biggest deal struck here was the partnership between Google and YouTube. Over "Grand Slam" breakfasts of pancakes, scrambled eggs, bacon, and sausage, as well as a couple of orders of chicken fingers, Google founder Larry Page and C.E.O. Eric Schmidt made their successful $1.65 billion offer to YouTube founders Chad Hurley and Steve Chen. Address: 1201 Broadway Street.
Businessmen fling their ties over their shoulders to prevent stains from dribbles of barbeque sauce at this Houston institution. Oilmen and U.S. presidents (Bush Sr. and Jr.) dine on the shaded concrete patio, talking shop and using lots of paper napkins while eating the ribs, brisket, and sausage links. Sides include barbeque beans and potato salad. There's a house-label root beer, but most opt for iced tea or a longneck bottle of beer, depending on how soon they need to get back to the office. Address: 5502 Memorial Drive.
San Francisco, California
Another popular Silicon Valley spot, this gyro stand has 7-inch and 9-inch Mediterranean-style pita sandwiches, falafel, and hummus. There are only a few tables so most of the idea exchange, networking, and dealmaking gets done while waiting in a line that snakes out the door at lunchtime. Employees of CNET, Yelp, TeeBeeDee, and other tech startups queue up daily and question each other about their latest projects. Address: 118 New Montgomery Street.
CURRY IN A HURRY
New York, New York
Though rough and a little seedy, this Indian and Pakistani cafeteria is nonetheless a favorite gathering place for people with offices in lower midtown Manhattan, like Russell Simmons, hip-hop mogul and C.E.O. of Rush Communications. A vegan, Simmons likes the curry eggplant and green vegetable juice here and discusses business with colleagues and clients in the upstairs dining area. But there are plenty of non-vegan options, including meat-filled dosas and samosas, along with chicken, beef, and lamb vindaloos and biryanis. Address: 119 Lexington Avenue, at 28th Street.
Architects and their clients study blueprints at this little pastry shop in the Lakeview neighborhood of Chicago. Management from nearby restaurants interviews prospective chefs, sous chefs, and waitstaff here. Bittersweet is known for its decadent chocolates but also serves quiches and grilled sandwiches, usually with cheese oozing out of the sides. More often however, business is discussed over coffee and a plate of cookies. Address: 1114 West Belmont Avenue.
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