A graduate of Cornell University’s respected School of Hotel Administration, Peter Karpinski has overseen the launch of eight award-winning concepts in less than five years for his own Sage Restaurant Group, including The Corner Office and Second Home Kitchen + Bar in Denver; Mercat a la Planxa in Chicago; Urban Farmer, The Original and Departure in Portland, Ore.; Braddock’s American Brasserie in Pittsburgh; and Toasted Oak Grill & Market in Novi, Mich., just outside of Detroit. Before joining the company in 2005, Karpinski sharpened his skills at several top hotels and restaurants, including the Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts and Caesars Palace as food and beverage director and director of restaurants, respectively, and the Regent Beverly Wilshire Hotel, where he served as assistant food and beverage director. While in Las Vegas, Karpinski was involved with the debut of nationally acclaimed restaurants Bradley Ogden and Bobby Flay’s Mesa Grill. He later joined Philadelphia’s Starr Restaurant, serving as corporate director of operations, managing an $80 million business with 1,200 staff and a strong eye for cutting-edge design and ambitious expansion plans.
FE&S: What aspect of your career gives you the greatest sense of accomplishment?
Peter Karpinski: Leading by example and watching people I work with grow their careers and find success in life and work.
FE&S: What type of charitable activities are you involved in?
Peter Karpinski: I am a strong believer in Sage Hospitality and Sage Restaurant Group’s pledge to support the communities in which they operate, embracing the company philosophy that “we can truly make the cities we are in better places to live and work.” I am currently on the board of directors for Big Brothers and Big Sisters of Colorado, Denver Kids Inc., and Metropolitan State University of Denver.
FE&S: Any interesting hobbies?
Peter Karpinski: You can typically find me outdoors when I am not in the office. Preferably doing something up in the Rocky Mountains. I love to fly fish, ski, hunt, mountain bike and go camping/hiking with my kids.
FE&S: What’s the best advice anyone ever gave you?
Peter Karpinski: Go confidently in the direction of your dreams, live the life you’ve imagined.
FE&S: Finish this sentence: Nobody knows I...
Peter Karpinski: ...went to West Point and was in the Army for a couple years right out of high school.
FE&S: What was your first job in foodservice?
Peter Karpinski: Although I did not come from a family in the hospitality industry, I found myself washing dishes at a diner when I was 14 and have basically been in the business, in some form or fashion, ever since. During that period I juggled a few jobs at once: a paper route, cleaning fish tanks, mowing lawns and washing dishes. The dishwashing job was by far the hardest, and I remember getting really beat down verbally by the cooks and the wait staff, but for some reason found it the most rewarding experience and stuck with it for a while. I used to close the restaurant after finishing up my duties at 2 a.m. or 3 a.m., and my dad would always be parked out in the lot, patiently waiting to drive me home. In New York at that time, if you were under 16 years old and wanted to have a job like that, you had to get a note from your school guidance counselor stating that your grades were above par.
FE&S: If I were just starting out in the foodservice industry, what advice would you give me?
Peter Karpinski: Have fun, but at the same time work hard and be committed to excellence. We often say, “Love what you do and love who you do it with.” The idea of life fulfillment is very important to us and we are much focused on constant innovation and embracing change. We don’t take things personally. We also encourage risk taking, and thrive on the processes that we find ourselves going through that leads us to an end-product or goal. We try to hire and build long-term relationships with proven and up-and-coming interior designers, architects and brand creative collateral companies. We involve all of those folks from the very beginning and fold them right into our inner circle, treating them like they are equal members on our team, and part of our family.