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Not Your Average Joe

Bobby Van’s owner Joseph Smith shares the secrets of his success

For Joseph Smith, owner of BV’s Grill and Bobby Van’s Steakhouse restaurants, it’s all about location. Indeed, the most important factor for Smith when he’s opening a steakhouse is that it be in a business district so it can do a strong lunch and dinner service. “When you see it, you know it!” he says.

The Irish-born restaurateur’s success and long career in the hospitality industry is a testament to his hard work and good instincts. Since purchasing the existing Bobby Van’s restaurant in Bridgehampton from its eponymous owner, the singer and Broadway actor, in 1989, Smith has amassed eight highly successful Bobby Van’s Steakhouse restaurants in New York City. His latest venue, BV’s Grill on Third Avenue and East 56th Street, is a more affordable and casual offshoot.

As the entrepreneur looks back on 25 years in the industry, Smith talks to DuJour about his business and how it’s evolved over the years.

There is a lot of competition in the steakhouse realm in NYC. What sets you apart?
The quality of our ingredients sets us apart. For steaks, it’s making sure you get the right cut of meat and that it’s been dry-aged for four to five weeks. And I’ve found that it’s very important to have an owner on the premises at all times, whether it be myself or one of my partners.

Joseph Smith

Joseph Smith

Hospitality is a notoriously difficult industry. What has made you so successful?
Hospitality is caring for one’s customers, treating them as you would like to be treated when you go to a restaurant. I like to make my customers feel like this is their living room, and they can have a great time and leave the work to us.

Bobby Van sold the restaurant to you in 1989. What made you want to purchase it?
We bought Bobby Van’s because the location was perfect and there wasn’t too much in Bridgehampton at the time. When Bobby Van’s opened, it sort of made the town, and it’s been a landmark ever since.

Inside Bobby Vans Steakhouse

Inside Bobby Van’s Steakhouse

You grew up in Ardoyne, Ireland. Were you interested in hospitality at a young age? Did you know this was your calling?
I wasn’t necessarily interested in hospitality at a young age. But was this my calling? Yes. I was following in my father’s footsteps. My father and two older brothers had all joined the merchant navy, and were in the catering business, so it was for me to follow them and see the world!

You were a waiter on cruise ships. Is that what brought you to the States after the navy at age 28?
I worked on the Queen Mary and the Queen Elizabeth—both cruise ships. In 1971, I decided it was time to come to New York and try it. I had been in the business since age 15 and it was time to put my feet on dry land. I knew I’d find the most success in New York City. I had always loved it here when I was coming in and out on the cruise ships.

Inside BV's Grill

Inside BV’s Grill

Who are some of your most well-known customers?
Billy Joel, Dustin Hoffman, Mel Brooks, the late Anne Bancroft, Paul Newman and numerous others. All great people!

What’s your go-to order at Bobby Van’s and BV’s Grill?
I enjoy the steaks at Bobby Van’s and at BV’s Grill a few of my favorites are the Veal Meatballs, the Maine Lobster and the Steak Gorgonzola.