40 Years With Andy
Restaurateur Andrew Reiss has presided over four decades of happy memories for Tallahasseeans.
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Restaurateur Andrew Reiss is surrounded by members of his senior staff, General Manager Jack Penrod (left) and Executive Chef David Straffolino.
In the beginning, there was The Deli.
Which begat The Brass Rail, which begat Andrew’s Second Act, which begat Maxin’s, which begat Tutto Benne, which begat Epicurean Catering, which begat Andrew’s Upstairs, which begat Andrew’s North, which begat Trio, which begat Andrew’s Capital Grill & Bar, which — finally — begat Andrew’s 228. And it was all good.
And that, friends, is the genesis of Andrew Reiss, who this year celebrates his 40th anniversary as a restaurateur. At 63, Reiss isn’t quite as old as Methuselah, but he does have the distinction of running Tallahassee’s longest lived restaurant business in the same location on Adams Street in the shadow of the Capitol.
“Why am I still here? In my opinion, No. 1 is me — my kid calls me a lovable pain in the ass. I never give up. I’m dogged. I’m still fussing if that’s not clean enough or that’s not right. I’m determined,” he explained. “No. 2 — location. Thank God for the Florida Legislature and what that brings to our community and that I have really been able to take advantage of it.”
Local public relations guru Ron Sachs has known Reiss since their days at Miami Norland High and has “worked for food” promoting the restaurants ever since starting his communications firm in Tallahassee 17 years ago. In addition to having a “calm” personality, Sachs said he attributes his friend’s business longevity to always being willing to improve and change.
“Forty years into this stellar career, he is as engaged in the business today as he was when he started,” Sachs said. “Andy’s secret is that he’s never complacent. He’s always proactive in looking ahead to what should the menu be, what should the service be, what should the ambience be. And that’s why he’s been willing to start from scratch and completely change the formats of the restaurants.”
Andy Reiss is surrounded by his staff at Andrew’s Capital Grill & Bar, a stone’s throw from the Capitol. Almost 300 former employees have joined a Facebook page called, “At Some Point in My Life, I worked for Andrew Reiss.”
What Made the Man
Reiss always begins a discussion about the start of his career by going back — way back to the life of his late father, Hans Reiss. Hans grew up the only child of older parents in Vienna and was spirited out of the country when Hitler invaded Austria. In an adventure that sounds like the plot of a novel, Hans Reiss went on an odyssey between continents, married his German wife when they were refugees in China and ended up in the United States. An accomplished pianist, the elder Reiss made a living as an entertainer, splitting his time between Cleveland in the summer and Miami in the winter.
“My father was like Victor Borge. He could entertain people in German or in English, telling jokes for hours and playing the piano,” Reiss recalled. When Andy and his brother were school aged, the family settled in Miami and Hans Reiss made a career as a maitre d’ at the luxury Carillon Hotel in Miami Beach during its mid-century glory.
“By the time I was 7 (or) 8 … my father started dragging us to the hotel. He was running the nightclub and we started washing dishes and busing tables, and by the time we were old enough (worked as) front desk clerk and cabana boy and valet parker,” Reiss recalled. “I was hanging out the in the kitchen all the time watching the chefs work. My grandma said I was going to be a chef one day.”
In addition to being introduced to the hospitality industry at an early age, Reiss was also raised in a “continental” household where “food was big” and white wine was served with dinner. “My dad was always the kind of guy who wouldn’t go to a restaurant that didn’t have a white tablecloth,” he said.
Even with his food-centric roots, Reiss initially attended the University of Florida with thoughts of becoming an accountant. That only lasted two years before he changed majors and transferred to the hospitality program at Florida State University.
But his time at UF wasn’t a total bust. Two of his frat brothers at Tau Epsilon Phi have become lifelong friends — Sachs and attorney Steve Uhlfelder. “I pledged TEP … and we had a housemother that must have been 75 or 80 years old. And everybody complained about the food, including me,” Reiss said. Uhlfelder, who was a senior and the fraternity president, “said ‘I’m tired of you bitching, Reiss. If you think you can do better, why don’t you do something about it?’” He put in a salad bar, at the time a novel concept, updated the menus and chalked up his first food service success. (When Reiss left, Sachs, who was a year behind him in school, took over his position as headwaiter).
At the time, he was dating Maxin Munchick, who he would convince to transfer with him to FSU and later wed after graduation. Reiss first espied his wife-to-be when they were both teenagers as she arrived at a North Carolina summer camp where both were counselors. “She came off the train, a bleached blonde with pigtails and a guitar on her back,” Reiss recalled. “You know how you are at that age; everybody at the beginning of summer is looking for their summer fling.” There were a few years of off-and-on dating — they went to different South Florida high schools — but that “fling” has lasted 45 years, including 42 years of marriage.