The Flower Shop: An Interview With Ronnie Flynn
In a city with new bars and restaurants popping up on the regular, drawing a devoted clientele is no easy feat. Yet Australian transplant Ronnie Flynn somehow manages to make it look as such, first curating nights for popular downtown haunts like Acme, The Jane, and Up&Down, before going all in with his own venture, NeverNever, together with Richie Akiva and a few others.
In 2017, Ronnie once again teamed up with friends in the industry, this time Dylan Hales and Will Tisch, to open The Flower Shop. Located on the border of Chinatown and the Lower East Side, the restaurant-slash-bar has a great vibe going any night of the week. It is a true local hangout, drawing the downtown creative set who get together in the dining room’s yellow booths to play cards and sip cocktails surrounded by wood paneling and tongue-in-cheek art. It’s a spot that doesn’t take itself too seriously, forgoing the velvet-rope mentality for an inclusive yet still curated vibe.
Here, Flower Shop local and friend of GrandLife Brett Robinson talks to Ronnie about the importance of authenticity, why you should always trust your instincts, and more.
Brett Robinson: Your last venture NeverNever, a clandestine underground club was one of the coolest spots of the last decade. Many have tried and failed, but how did you successfully inject the same energy into a publically accessible pub with no door policy and cheap beer?
Ronnie Flynn: Great question. I think the first thing that sparked the idea of NeverNever was this little thing called fun, and how I felt like it was being smothered by exclusiveness and social hierarchy in NYC nightlife. It has a lot to do with instinct and personal experience as far as being stubborn enough to execute an idea like that, along with an opportunity and a great team. But I think what it really comes down to is being one of the people that I like to cater to when it comes to hospitality ventures, it helps with the ability to predict the needs of the neighborhood when all your friends live in it. Also, understanding that being patient and curating certain parties and events with people I respect has a lot more substance to it. I like to think that anything that I’m doing is authentic and isn’t too pretentious… For me, it was about stripping it down and getting back to the nitty-gritty of a plain old good time.
BR: Have you always had a preternatural ability to see into the future? Your finger is on the pulse more so than anyone.
RF: When you actually own places and have financial responsibilities, things become a lot more real. To me, it makes sense to go with my gut and past experience. I worked with a lot of heads over the years and learned from their mistakes and successes. I realize as I’ve gotten older that my instinct is actually my biggest asset. I also find inspiration in a lot of things outside of the hospitality biz and having an open dialogue with peers and creative friends. I guess I would like to think that, for everyone’s sake, I can see what’s coming next or what needs to come next and cater to that.
BR: What are some of the differences between the initial Flower Shop concept and what it has today become? What are some of the biggest changes that maybe you didn’t see coming?
RF: What I try and do here, and what we all try to do here as partners, is really build a foundation of authenticity. So, the goal was always to be patient with that but never dictate what the brand is or try to predict what the identity of the place is, [rather] set up the parameters for what we’d like it to be, and all the little things that we wanted to include—the food, the interiors, the pool table, the sport on TV, and the dining room upstairs—all these elements that we kind of box-checked… We let it settle into what it was supposed to be. The biggest change was perhaps with the food—we attempted to do a real juxtaposition of high-end food served in a low-key casual kind of Cheers environment; the food ended up becoming what it is today, which is basically really, really good, thoughtful pub food by our chef Michael Hamilton, who is a highly qualified international chef. Now we get a lot of chefs, foodies, and industry friends coming to eat, which is usually a good sign.
We also decided on an all-inclusive door policy because everyone should be welcome, all walks of life, that’s what NYC is all about. That obviously comes with its frustrations especially on the weekends but the reality is that we made an effort to build a really strong foundation of authenticity and substance with the eclectic group of locals, friends, and people that we know throughout New York who treat this place like their home, and once that’s set, the rest will take its own course. And I think if you have the foundation right, which I’m clearly pretty adamant about, it usually evolves nicely from there.
BR: Michelin recently recognized The Flower Shop for a Bib Gourmand and added you to the prestigious New York City recommendation Michelin Guide; what does that mean for a small business, and do you feel validated in the way that, say, a large pickup truck would make you feel?
RF: [laughs] Yeah, exactly like that. It’s 100 percent a milestone for what we’re trying to achieve. There are a lot of elements to this concept in general, which is usually pretty dangerous to not focus on one thing or another so the food was something we were really trying to let shine when we first started and it got a little drowned out because people needed more of a bar situation. But the affirmation more importantly for our chef and for all of us involved in the food, it gave us a nice seal of approval that we’re doing something right. And as a low-key pub environment, which is what we’re trying to create, to be on that map I think that’s even cooler and a bigger achievement.
BR: Currently, there is an overwhelming number of your people [Australians] in New York City. Being one of the more infamous, do you see yourself in a humanitarian role helping expats settle into the neighborhood?
RF: I think a lot of people in general move here thinking it’s going to be easy. It certainly wasn’t for me, but I had some solid mentor types from NYC that took me in early on. There are some expats that are going to make it here, that have the right intentions… I have plenty of time to harness and help build our little community of expats and downtowners, or whoever it is, people who have something to contribute to New York and just kind of get it. Everyone else can figure it out on their own or get eaten alive by this sexy bitch we call New York.
BR: What’s it like living with your business partner Dylan Hales?
RF: It’s crazy, but for some reason, it works. The funny thing is that when Dylan and I became business partners it was for a project in Montauk, we were helping a friend of ours on a restaurant and bar there called Harbor in 2015, and because when you’re out there working you rent a big house and all the staff live there like a family—we had all the kitchen staff, all the management living in this one big house, so it’s kind of a project-based living situation. And when we came back into the city and started this project, we didn’t expect to stay living together forever, it was part of the project because it makes for a more productive situation. And then before you know it we’ve been living and working together for almost three years. But it works, for some reason, it works.
BR: What’s next for you and The Flower Shop team?
RF: At the moment, we’re going headfirst into a project in SoHo on West Broadway between Broome and Grand. We took over the old Novecento space, which has been there for about 30 years; a lot of good vibes in there, and we’re going to open our style of restaurant with a meeting spot and bar upstairs.
BR: What can we expect?
RF: If The Flower Shop is the twin boys in the family, this place will be their older sister who’s spent time in Europe. Like, if The Flower Shop is your Pub then this is your restaurant. As I said before, you can’t really nail down the whole concept this early but the idea is that it’ll be a lively restaurant, a little bit more elevated than what we have here in that it’s in SoHo and on West Broadway, with a lounge, bar, private dining room upstairs. It’s a little two-story standalone building. Well-thought-out design and interiors with a nod to the late ’70s and our twist on a contemporary bistro or brasserie fare. Of course, some Australian classics, breakfast, lunch, and dinner; basically restaurant vibes with a sneaky lounge bar upstairs.
INTERVIEW Brett Robinson
PHOTOGRAPHY Terence Connors