Freemans Feeds, Tailors Wall Street, Stars, Hip Techies

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Photographer: Friends & Family via Bloomberg

Taavo Somer, center, founder of a mini-empire of restaurants, barbershops and clothing stores.

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Photographer: Friends & Family via Bloomberg

Taavo Somer, center, founder of a mini-empire of restaurants, barbershops and clothing stores. Close

Taavo Somer, center, founder of a mini-empire of restaurants, barbershops and clothing stores.

Photographer: Friends & Family via Bloomberg

Peels, Taavo Somer's restaurant on the Bowery. Somer also owns and runs three other restaurants: Freemans on the Lower East Side, Isa in Williamsburg, and the Rusty Knot on West 11th Street. Close

Peels, Taavo Somer's restaurant on the Bowery. Somer also owns and runs three other restaurants: Freemans on the... Read More

Photographer: Friends & Family via Bloomberg

Contractors building the interior of Barbershop, located on Rivington Street on the Lower East Side. Somer paneled the interior with spruce wood, which he reclaimed from an abandoned barn in upstate New York. Close

Contractors building the interior of Barbershop, located on Rivington Street on the Lower East Side. Somer paneled... Read More

Photographer: Friends & Family via Bloomberg

A detail of the completed facade of Barbershop. Taavo Somer will open a bar in the same lower east side Freemans compound in early 2014. Close

A detail of the completed facade of Barbershop. Taavo Somer will open a bar in the same lower east side Freemans... Read More

Taavo Somer owns the Freemans empire downtown: He’s got a clothing store, a barbershop, four restaurants and a creative agency, all of which help make flannel, jeans and facial hair ubiquitous.

He’s not through yet: Freemans Sporting Club now offers a bespoke suit division, and they’re almost doubling the space of their Lower East Side store.

Somer is also opening a retail space on Dean Street in Brooklyn this month, and a bar in his compound in early 2014.

I met with him outside of Barbershop, his newly renovated tonsorium on Rivington Street. Wearing a blue button-down shirt, dark jeans, a blue bandanna across his forehead and a gold Rolex Submariner, he toured me through the operation.

Tarmy: How many people work for you?

Somer: I don’t know. I’m going to guess probably 350? Our Christmas parties are pretty packed.

Tarmy: Has your company grown past your ability to manage everything directly?

Somer: The concept behind Friends and Family, my creative agency, is to build a collective where I’m behind it, but other people are experts. We have a 7,500-square-foot shop on Dean Street in Brooklyn which we’re making into our office, woodshop, and a retail space.

Bespoke Suits

Tarmy: Why bespoke suits?

Somer: We’d been doing suiting with Martin Greenfield tailors for eight years, so we had an established customer base willing to spend $2,500 or $3,500 for a made-to-measure suit.

Bespoke suits cost $4,000 to $5,000. So when we introduced them, it was sort of a no-brainer for our customers to evolve from made-to-measure to bespoke.

Right now our tailor has about 90 of them in production. We can do about 20 suits a month.

Tarmy: Who are your customers?

Somer: We get a lot of artists and actors, film stars, food critics, guys in tech and obviously people on Wall Street.

Tarmy: You’re also expanding ready-to-wear?

Somer: We have the Freemans suit, which retails for $1,250. We sold about 100 online in the first few weeks of May. That’s where we see our future in the tailoring sector.

Tarmy: What’s your company’s overall gross?

Somer: Somewhere between $14 million and $20 million.

Tarmy: Is a large part from your restaurants?

Somer: Freemans is definitely an engine. But the barbershop is also a good revenue source. And our margin is around 75% on tailored apparel.

No Reservations

Tarmy: Both Freemans and Peels refuse to take reservations. Will that ever change?

Somer: We take reservations for six or more, and at Isa, our restaurant in Williamsburg, we’re a little bit more flexible.

But it’s a fine line. We have to encourage walk-ins.

Tarmy: My friends have begun to revolt -- if they’re told to wait more than 20 minutes, they just find somewhere else.

Somer: I’ve worked the door at Isa and at Freemans. Back in 2005, people would gladly wait an hour and a half, two hours. Now at Isa, if I say it will be 10 minutes it’s like I just shot their dog.

Tarmy: The other backlash is against noise. People are beginning to stand up to unbearable decibel levels.

Too Quiet

Somer: There are a million details that go into a restaurant or any sort of retail space. We think about acoustics, but if it’s too quiet people complain because you feel like you’re in a library or a stodgy country club.

Tarmy: Sure. But there’s a difference between a pleasant murmur and having to scream to be heard by people next to you.

Somer: Even at Freemans there’s a fabric wall that no one even notices -- behind the wall we have an inch and a half of sound absorbing, really gross product that everyone hates.

Tarmy: Would you do something like that at Peels?

Somer: Maybe we can do an open-source design experience. Let all of the critics make a data room where they can design their perfect restaurant and see what comes out of it.

They’d probably all complain about it once it’s finished.

(James Tarmy is a reporter/writer for Muse, the arts and culture section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)

To contact the writer responsible for this story: James Tarmy at jtarmy@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Manuela Hoelterhoff at mhoelterhoff@bloomberg.net.

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